Bone health is a revolving topic in nutrition, and ongoing debates in nutrition science have recently focused on calcium. Should you meet your daily calcium needs directly mostly from foods? If so, how do you know if your diet is calcium-rich? Are you worried that dairy is bad for you? Do you wonder if you should take calcium supplements and if so, are they safe? Do you know how much calcium you need based on your age? Can calcium from supplements cause heart disease or kidney stones? With World Osteoporosis Day upon us (October 20), here’s the low down on a bone-healthy diet and the latest recommendations for overall bone health.
You need to eat bone-healthy throughout your life to lower risk of osteoporosisBone loss or osteoporosis is a disease associated with fractures in the hip, spine and wrist. Children, teens and even young adults can develop early thinning of the bones, though it is mostly associated with aging. The new report on bone health shows that nutrition plays a crucial role in the development of healthy bones, even before you’re born. So a pregnant woman has to have adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium, as well as other key minerals like magnesium, to support the bones of her growing baby and her own needs. Then throughout life, it’s crucial to include multiple portions of Vitamin D and calcium-fortified foods and beverages daily, like fortified milk (cow’s milk, soy milk or nut milk), yogurts, calcium-fortified grains like certain whole grain cereal (label needs to indicate calcium levels), sardines, herring, low fat cheese, canned sardines or salmon (with bone), turnip greens, kale (cooked), broccoli, and you can also consider having one serving of calcium fortified unsweetened orange juice daily.** Depending on your age, you should accumulate between 800 – 1500 milligrams of calcium daily from foods.** Otherwise, you may need a supplement.
Isn’t dairy bad for you?
You will have to make a personal decision about the dairy food group. It’s reasonable to eat only organic dairy products to limit the influence of antibiotics. Fat free and unsweetened dairy products are also a good choice, since many of us do have weight issues, so we don’t need the extra calories or the unhealthy saturated fat. If dairy is a food group you choose to avoid, there are still plenty of calcium and vitamin-D rich foods to choose from.
Should I take calcium supplements?
Avoiding fragile bones means that you lower your risk for fractures and you protect your quality-of-life well into your senior years. Remember that excessive alcohol, smoking, and excessive dieting, as well as regular use of sunblock year round can put you at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. A serious fracture at any time in life can compromise activities, but a hip fracture in your senior years is associated with increased mortality. So if you do feel that your diet is lacking the key bone-supportive vitamins and minerals, then current recommendations support using a supplement. Never take more than 500 milligrams of calcium at one time, since you will excrete the excess amount.
A very recent study** suggests that if you are at risk for kidney stones, or have had kidney stones, that a diet rich in calcium decreases the risk of kidney stones, but calcium supplements may have the opposite effect**. Have a conversation with your doctor if you have concerns.
Another study suggested that there might be an increased risk of heart disease associated with calcium supplementation. Research published in 2014 debunked the association and showed that the use of calcium supplements did not raise the risk of cardiovascular disease in women.
It is quite clear that nutritional needs for bone health changes as you move through life, with kids and seniors having higher daily requirements than young and middle age adults. Regardless, everyone needs to take bone health seriously.
Depending on your age, calcium and Vitamin D needs changeTalk to your doctor so you can decide on the appropriate daily intake levels of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K and other micronutrients. Remember that gender, health factors and age will determine different needs during different decades.** Do try to get significant daily calcium needs from a bone-healthy diet.** In terms of calcium needs, a simple guideline:
Ages 0-3 (girls and boys) between 200 and 700 mg
Ages 4-8 (girls and boys) 1000 mg
Ages 9-13 (girls and boys 1300 mg
Ages 14-18 (girls and boys and females pregnant or lactating 1300 mg
Ages 19-50 (male and female, and female pregnant or lactating) 1000 mg
Ages 51 – 70: Men 1000 mg Female 1200 mg
Age 71+ (men and women) 1200 mg
Consider a daily habit of black tea
One beverage you can consider including in your daily diet is black tea. A new study suggests that three cups a day is linked to fewer fractures in older women. Just make sure to drink unsweetened version and use skim milk or nut milk instead of whole milk if you like to cream it up.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”