Once we hit the age of 40, our bones gradually lose their density. It’s a normal part of ageing. Density of a bone refers to how much mineral is available in each centimeter square of a bone. Ageing is also one of the main risk factors for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you your bones become weak and are more likely to fracture, even without an injury.
Osteoporosis has no symptoms, and is commonly called a “silent disease.” Although there are no symptoms (until you actually fracture a bone and feel the pain), there are signs you should watch out for that can lead up to osteoporosis. These are, joint pains, and difficulty standing or sitting up straight.
Whether you have osteoporosis, or just want to strengthen your bones to prevent it from occurring, there are several things you can do to maintain your bone density.
Get Some Sunshine
There are two things most important for strong bones: calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to help the absorption of calcium, and what better source of vitamin D production than the sun! When you are exposed to the sun, you’re body makes its own vitamin D. Spending as little as 15 minutes directly under the sun two or three times a week is all you need.
Get Your Calcium and Vitamin D Fix from Foods
Adults up to age 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily. Adults over 50 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600-800 IU of vitamin D daily. Those with a diagnosis of osteoporosis should get a minimum of 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, regardless of their age. Calcium supports your bones and teeth structure, while vitamin D improves absorption of calcium and bone growth. Get these nutrients by trying these foods for healthy bones:
Although you can get much of your vitamin D production from the sun, most yoghurt is fortified with vitamin D. Have a cup of low-fat yoghurt daily to also get your calcium fix for the day. You can eat yoghurt with fruit as well to naturally sweeten it up.
There’s a reason why kids are brought up to drink a lot of milk growing up. Milk is naturally full of calcium, and one full glass of fat-free milk will only cost you 90 calories and up to 30% of your calcium allowance. Choose a brand that is fortified with vitamin D (vitamin D is added to the milk) to get double the benefits. If drinking milk alone seems boring to you, you can add it to a fruit smoothie and take it on the go.
Cheese is great, and 1.5 ounces of cheddar cheese contains more than 30 percent of your daily dose of calcium. However, cheese also has fat, so eat this in moderation. Most cheeses contain a small amount of vitamin D, but not enough to fill your daily needs.
Sardines are tiny fish, which are often found in cans. Although they may be a bit expensive in Pakistan, they surprisingly have high levels of both vitamin D and calcium. You can add sardines in pasta or salads.
Eggs are a quick way to get some vitamin D in your system. Though they only contain 6 percent of your daily vitamin D. Make sure you include the yolk (the yellow part) from the eggs, because that is what contains vitamin D. The egg whites contain protein.
Salmon is known mainly for its omega-3 fatty acid content, which is great for the heart. However, one 3-ounce piece of salmon will fill more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin D intake! Enjoy this fish for dinner 2 or three times a week.
Most of the foods so have far have been dairy products. However, if you don’t want to eat much of dairy (or if you are lactose intolerant) spinach is another good example of a food that contains calcium. One cup of cooked spinach gets you 25 percent of your daily calcium, plus iron, fiber and vitamin A.
Certain cereals are fortified with vitamin D. When you don’t have time to cook up salmon, or don’t feel like eating any dairy products, cereal in a baggy that contains much vitamin D is a great snack on the go. It’s even better with milk, for breakfast, or just a midnight snack for when you get a sudden hunger pang.
Tuna is another fish with omega-3 fatty acids, and yet another good source of vitamin D. You can find tuna in a can, and three ounces contains about 39 percent of your daily dose of the vitamin.
Collards are leafy green vegetables that are in the same family as cabbage, spinach and broccoli. These are full of calcium, and one cup of cooked collards contain more than 25 percent of your daily dose
Oranges themselves don’t really contain calcium or vitamin D, however most orange juices you find on shelves are often fortified (added with) calcium and vitamin D. Although oranges don’t contain these nutrients, it does indeed ascorbic acid. Studies have shown that this acid helps with calcium absorption, so you can still get benefits from drinking some OJ.
If you are deficient in calcium or vitamin D, first talk to your doctor, because there is usually an underlying medical condition. However, there are supplements you can take that give you your daily levels of these nutrients in one go.
Go Easy on the Protein
I’ve discussed 11 foods you should eat that contain vitamin D and calcium. You should eat these, although they also contain protein, such as the fish and eggs. Fish is a healthier source of protein, but other types such as meat should be limited. Protein makes body acid, which drains the body of calcium and can weaken bones. Keep your diet balanced, with proportional amounts of protein, carbs and fat. Include in your diet fresh fruits and vegetables.
Not smoking should be common sense, as it can ruin your health in many ways, including damaging your lungs and raising blood pressure, which in turn can cause many other systems in your body to not function properly. What’s more, is that the more you smoke, the more likely your bones will weaken and more likely you’ll get osteoporosis.
Cut out the Salt
Salt speeds up the body’s loss of calcium. The recommended daily limit is 6g, which is just a teaspoonful, however most of us consume more than that. Don’t overdo with adding salt to your foods and look at food labels to help you cut down. Cooking sauces, cheese, chips, pizza and other processed foods are all high in salt, so limit your intake.
Bones get stronger the more you use them. If you become sedentary and sit on the couch all day, your bones will become weaker and you’re more prone to develop osteoporosis. Get active by going for a short brisk walk, do some light jogging, play a sport like golf and swim to increase your flexibility. Light weight lifting is also great to increase your strength and bone density, and to avoid sarcopenia, which is when your muscles diminish.
Tea, coffee, soda and other fizzy drinks reduce the amount of calcium you absorb and weaken bones. Caffeine may be beneficial, but only to a certain extent. Don’t overdo your daily caffeine requirement, and opt for more water and orange juice (or any other types of juice).
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Weight loss is great if you are indeed somewhat overweight. However, losing too much weight too fast, especially if you are undergoing a crash diet (which you should not be doing in the first place) and exercising too much. All of this can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Women who are too thin may experience a stop in their menstruation. Too much weight loss too fast can cut the amount of estrogen (a hormone that helps to protect your bones) in the body. Moderation is key, and you should maintain a healthy weight.
If you are nearing mid-life, follow these guidelines. Get sunlight, eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin d, eat balanced meals with the right macronutrients, and get active but maintain a healthy weight. Cut down on the salt if your intake is too much already, limit your choice of beverages other than water and juices, and definitely cut smoking if you haven’t done so already. Keep your bones healthy and strong!