Focus on Eating Variety of Foods with Calcium to Protect Bone Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    Osteoporosis. That word rightfully strikes fear in the hearts of so many people as they age. The word brings up images of broken bones, which can lead to the loss of independence. And there are so many reports of the elderly breaking a hip, which then causes their health to spiral into a fatal decline.

    So how to avoid hearing this particular “O” word? I’ve always thought that to maintain bone health, you should consume a lot of milk and other dairy products. But a 70-year-old friend who has osteoporosis told me that her doctor has encouraged her to avoid dairy products because they don’t support bone health. My friend has focused on getting the nutrients she needs from other foods instead. Has this dietary change worked? Her latest bone density scan shows that her bone density remained the same on her new diet.

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    Because of her situation (and learning recently that another friend may be in the early stages of osteoporosis), I decided to do a little exploring. What I found has caused me think about revamping my diet a bit.

    First of all, I learned that all dairy products may not be equal in relation to bone health. A new study out of the Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, involved 3,212 participants, most of whom had reached middle age. The participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and also had their bone mineral density analyzed.  The researchers found that participants who ate low-fat milk and yogurt had better hip bone density than those who ate cream. The researchers believe this finding is because the body gets more protein, calcium and vitamin D and less saturated fat from low-fat milk and yogurt.  Their analysis also suggested that consuming 2.5-3 servings of milk and yogurt daily is the way to go. One especially interesting finding from this study was that consuming milk and yogurt was associated with higher mineral bone density in the hip, but not in the spine.

    Other studies suggest milk may not be best thing for your bones. For instance, one study, which was conducted by Harvard researchers, spanned 12 years and included 77,761 women between the ages of 34 and 59. The researchers found that participants who drank milk three times daily had more broken bones than women who rarely consumed milk.

    Still other research offers good reasons beyond bone health to consume some dairy products. A new meta-analysis found that dairy products may assist older women in avoiding metabolic syndrome, which includes risk factor such as obesity and hypertension. The researchers also pointed to limited studies that found dairy products beneficial in controlling blood pressure, inflammatory stress and oxidative stress.

    So what are some options to consider if you are focused on bone health? Here are some options:

    • Limit your consumption of dairy foods.  The Harvard School of Public Health suggests you should consume no more than 1-2 servings daily.
    • Consume other sources of calcium. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, many foods are excellent sources of calcium, including tofu, sesame seeds, sardines, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens and beet greens. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine also suggests adding broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, kale, beans, and calcium-fortified apple or orange juice.  Other types of produce that contain some calcium include butternut squash, sweet potato, green beans, barley, navel orange and raisins.
    • Get enough vitamin D. This vitamin works with calcium to ensure bone health. You can do this with vitamin supplements or getting direct sunlight.
    • Reduce salt intake. Eating too much salt can cause calcium loss from your body.
    • Try to get more protein from plants instead of animals. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine stated that eating animal protein can cause calcium to leach from the bones and be removed from the body when you urinate. In comparison, plant protein does not seem to cause this type of leaching. Some good sources of this kind of protein include spinach, tofu, mustard greens, asparagus, soybeans, crimini mushrooms, summer squash, collard greens, cauliflower, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans and garbanzo beans.
    • Stop smoking. This habit also causes the body to lose calcium.

    If you’re concerned about bone loss, I’d encourage you to work with your doctor and possibly a nutritionist to come up with a dietary plan for you. Also, I’d encourage you to consume a varied diet so that you get calcium from a variety of sources besides dairy. Let’s pile our plates high with beet greens!

    Primary Sources for the Sharepost:

  • DaSilva, M. S. & Rudkowska, I. (2014). Dairy products on metabolic health: Current research and clinical implications. Maturitas.

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    George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Calcium.

    George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Protein.

    Harvard School of Public Health. (ND). Calcium and milk.

    Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (ND). Calcium and strong bones.

    Science Daily. (2014). New study sheds light on link between dairy intake and bone health: Not all dairy products are equal.

Published On: February 24, 2014