Nutrition for Bone Health
Your diet can be key in protecting your bones—here’s what it should consist of.
Low bone density is an ailment that most elderly people suffer from, and if left untreated it can develop into osteopenia and osteoporosis. For many, this means brittle bones, higher risk of falling, increased risk of that fall leading to a fracture, and reduced strength. While it develops slowly, early signs include change in posture, onset of joint pain and swelling, and frequent fractures. A 2019 study by the Indian Journal of Rheumatology found that around 50 million Indians suffer from either osteopenia or osteoporosis. But, just because it’s a common disease that doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented. In fact, prevention begins at the most fundamental level: Nutrition. The vitamins and nutrients offered by food—if you make the correct choices—can deliver exactly what your bones need to sustain their growth and keep them healthy. So, here’s a guide with easily obtainable items to help you incorporate more bone-friendly foods into your diet, all of which are packed with good-for-you nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. This list is also supplemented with items that help your body absorb the aforementioned calcium better, making it a holistic plan to safeguard your bone health. Of course, along with a well-rounded diet, you should also consult your medical practitioner to assess the need for medication or supplements.
Some leafy vegetables actually contain more calcium than most dairy products, and they are a versatile option when it comes to preparing them (and great in case you’re lactose intolerant). So, try and add collard greens, kale, okra (ladyfinger), cabbage, and broccoli to the rotation. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one cup of cooked collard greens contains around 266 mg of calcium, which gets you closer towards the goal you and your healthcare advisor have set (calcium requirements vary from 700-1,200 mg per day, and depend on your medical history). Another benefit? Dark leafy greens contain vitamin K, an important nutrient in aiding bone health.
If your body can digest dairy, then low/non-fat milk and yoghurt are both calcium-rich options. Additionally, most are fortified with vitamin D, a vitamin that is difficult for your body to synthesize on its own as you age. A study by the Institute for Aging Research found that one’s dairy intake (milk and yoghurt, to be specific) is associated with higher bone mineral density in the hip, a positive outcome.
Think salmon and other kinds of fatty fish like tuna, as they contain vitamin D and omega-3, both of which aid in bone health. Omega-3 can also reduce the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease, making it a powerful addition to any diet.
Nuts and seeds
A convenient snack, nuts like almonds are rich in healthy fats as well as calcium and magnesium. If you’re unable to chew them directly, try blending them into a paste and using it as a spread. There are also plenty of no-sugar-added nut butters available in the market. Sunflower and chia seeds can be had as a snack or added over meals, as they contain magnesium, protein, omega-3, all of which protect your bones. In fact, as per a study by Nutrients, a journal published by MDPI, 60 percent of the total magnesium in your body is stored in the bone, so a deficiency would be detrimental. Some seeds like pumpkin offer zinc, which can help in bone regeneration and metabolise other nutrients.
Along with calcium and the various vitamins, you also need a dose of protein so that your muscles can repair themselves and provide strength. Opt for lean meats, or vegetarian options like soy, tofu and lentils.
While calcium and vitamin D get most of the attention, they aren’t the only nutrients that help protect your bones. Vitamin C is another one, and while research on its exact role in bone health is still underway, many studies have found a positive correlation between the two. It’s easy enough to incorporate in one’s diet: Fruits like grapefruits, papaya, red and green peppers all have more than enough amounts of it. Prunes are believed to be immensely beneficial for bone health too, as they can help maintain one’s bone mineral density.
It’s best to work in tandem with your healthcare practitioner to determine the exact amount of each nutrient required for your individual needs. And, do remember that while nutrition is a key part in bone health, that needs to be accompanied with regular check-ups and physical exercise.
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At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.