Beyond Calcium and Vitamin D: Five Things to Track in Your Daily Diet

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Calcium. Check.

    Vitamin D. Check.

    Protein. Uh… protein? 

    How about magnesium? Vitamins B-12 and K? Potassium?

    We all know that calcium and vitamin D are critical to bone health. But as it turns out, there’s more to fighting osteoporosis than calcium, vitamin D, and drugs.


    Your body needs a host of other nutrients to ensure that your bones will carry you into a healthy, happy old age – literally.

    Since these “less famous” vitamins and minerals don’t get nearly the press that calcium and vitamin D do, you probably aren’t aware of just how critical they are.

    And you almost certainly don’t know how much of each you should be ingesting daily.

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    So let’s get educated, shall we? The following five nutrients have been identified by doctors and nutritionists as just one tier down in importance from calcium and vitamin D.

    Think of getting a sufficient amount of these as life insurance for your bones.

    Protein 
    While your bones are mainly calcium, they’re also 22% protein. Protein is a key element in bone remodeling (the constant cycle of bone breakdown and rebuilding). 

    The National Academy of Sciences’ Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): As research continues, recommendations change regarding the optimal amount of protein a healthy adult should consume each day. Currently, the RDA is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, for men and women alike.

    To simplify this computation, try to ingest about 1/2g protein per pound of body weight daily. Thus if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume 75g of protein.

    Dietary sources: Since protein isn’t something you’ll find in your daily multivitamin, you’ll almost certainly rely on your diet for protein. Luckily, it’s a chief component of many foods, including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, as well as beans, nuts, and whole grains.

    A 6-ounce piece of cooked salmon or 4-ounce piece of cooked chicken breast covers nearly half your daily protein requirement. For vegetarians, 1 cup of cooked lentils covers about one-quarter of your daily need.

    Dairy products are an easy way to up your protein, too. 1 cup of skim milk has 9g protein; 1 ounce of low-fat cheese, 8g; and a 6-ounce carton of fat-free, sugar-free (“light”) yogurt offers 6g. Soy milk checks in at 7g protein per 8-ounce cup. So 2 cups of milk (dairy or soy), 2 ounces of cheese, and one carton of yogurt cover more than half your daily protein needs.

    For most of us, consuming enough protein each day probably isn’t an issue. In fact, many of us probably have too much protein in our diet; and too much is just as bad as not enough. Excess protein increases the acid level of your blood, and your bones shed calcium to try to neutralize this acid. So try to stay close to those 75 or so grams of protein daily, OK?

    Vitamin K
    As vitamin D is to calcium, so is vitamin K to protein: the two go hand in hand, vitamin K enabling protein to do its work. In addition, vitamin K blocks the formation of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone. Bigger picture, it’s been shown to help prevent fractures, particularly in post-menopausal women.


  • RDA: 120 micrograms (mcg) (men); 90mcg (women)

    Dietary sources: Vitamin K is chiefly found in leafy green vegetables, including spinach, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale, and mustard greens. Green beans and asparagus are also good sources, as are green peas and carrots.

    Perhaps the easiest way to achieve your daily vitamin K goal via diet is Romaine lettuce, whose dark green leaves have four times as much vitamin K as its paler cousin, iceberg. 2 cups of Romaine include 115mcg of vitamin K. So one typical salad will give you all the vitamin K you need, and then some.

    Supplements: A typical multivitamin offers 30mcg vitamin K, about one-third your daily goal.

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    Vitamin B-12
    Vitamin B-12, like vitamin K, assists protein in building bone. Studies have shown that people with low levels of this vitamin suffer an increased risk of fractures, particularly hip fractures.

    RDA: 2.4mcg (men and women).

    Vitamin B-12 is found only in certain types of fish and meat; as well as in some dairy products. 2 cups of low-fat yogurt; 3 cups of 2% milk; or 4 ounces of cooked salmon, beef, or lamb provide your daily requirement of B-12.

    Supplements: Luckily, since it’s fairly tricky to get all the vitamin B-12 you need via your diet, the typical multivitamin offers 25mcg of vitamin B-12, more than enough to cover your needs.

    Potassium
    Potassium does a great job regulating the acid level in your blood. Remember, elevated levels of blood acid leach calcium from your bones, causing them to lose density. In addition, a high-salt diet can cause your bones to shed more calcium via your excretory system; potassium helps counteract this.   

    RDA: 3500mg (men and women).

    Dietary sources: Thankfully, potassium is common in many of the foods we enjoy regularly, mainly fruits and vegetables. However, it’s also a challenge to eat enough of these foods to meet your daily requirement; and due to possible toxicity, government regulations prohibit non-food sources (e.g., multivitamins) from offering more than 99mg per serving (per tablet). Thus, many Americans are potassium-deficient.

    The solution? Try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. LOTS of fruits and vegetables. It’s unreasonable to think you can eat enough to meet your daily potassium goal, but what the heck, they’re good for you in lots of other ways, too. So make them a major part of your diet.

    Dietary sources: 1 cup of cooked spinach, Swiss chard, most kinds of beans and peas, or winter squash cover about one-quarter of your RDA for potassium.

    A big salad is a great source of potassium; choose Romaine lettuce, celery, avocado, tomato, and carrots. Other good vegetable sources include summer squash (eg. zucchini), eggplant, green beans, asparagus, beets, and baked potatoes, both white and sweet.

    When choosing fruit, strawberries, kiwifruit, papayas, bananas, oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, and prunes are your best choices.

    Finally, four kinds of fish – cod, halibut, tuna, and snapper – are all decent sources of potassium. As is a perennial favorite, 2% milk.  


  • Supplements: Unfortunately, not a big help; typically about 80mg, only about 3% of your daily requirement.

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    Magnesium
    Your bones are about 1% magnesium, which doesn’t sound like much. But that tiny bit of this important mineral keeps bone crystals from enlarging. The larger your bone crystals, the more brittle your bones, the more likely you are to suffer a fracture. So if you can maintain sufficient levels of magnesium in your bones, you’re helping prevent fractures.

    In addition, magnesium helps your body absorb calcium – and we know how important that is.

    RDA: 420mg (men); 320mg (women).

    Dietary sources: Nuts are a great source of magnesium. For women, 2 ounces of almonds or cashews covers about half your RDA, while 3 tablespoons of peanut butter covers about 1/3.

    Other readily available magnesium-rich foods include spinach and baked potatoes; brown rice; whole-grain breads and cereals; and peas and beans.

    And chocolate. Yes, you read it right: chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium. Go for it!

    Supplements: A typical multivitamin includes 50mg magnesium, about 17% of a woman’s daily requirement.

    I know, this is a lot to remember. But it all boils down to this: a healthy diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and limited amounts of selected meat, poultry, and fish, are just what the doctor ordered: for your health in general, and bone health in particular.

Published On: April 08, 2010