Healthy bones are essential for a healthy body. Most people know that the skeletal system plays a crucial role as a structural framework, without which our lives would be very different and difficult. However, in addition to providing structural support, our skeletal system is also a calcium reserve, and protects vital organs.
Bones are tissues that are constantly being remodeled. Bone cells constantly break down, and replace damaged, or old tissue with newer materials. This process of bone breaking and reforming tends to occur at the same rate, which is why our bones stay a constant size. However, the process of bone breaking may speed up due to 2 reasons
Natural aging process
As we age this process becomes less efficient, and our cells start to break down bone tissue faster than they can be replaced. Once we reach our peak bone mass, at around 30 years, our bone mass and strength begins to decrease. It is very important that we build up the strength and size of our bones before we hit this age to ensure that we are prepared for this inevitable loss. This can be done through exercise (strength training), and by consuming sufficient amounts of nutrients needed for bone formation.
Low calcium intake
As mentioned earlier, the bones act as reservoir that stores calcium. When calcium intake is low, bones are broken down to ensure that blood calcium is high enough for normal functioning. As a result people who have low calcium intakes, break down bones faster than they form it, leading to weaker bones.
Osteoporosis is a disease associated with weak and frail bones. As a result the bones are more likely to be fractured. Around 1.4 million Canadians struggle with osteoporosis. Women, and seniors have higher risk of developing osteoporosis. The hips, wrists, and spine region is where fractures occur commonly. This can lead to disability, lack of functioning, and in certain cases death.
It’s never too late to stop bones loss and prevent diseases like osteoporosis.
Start Early by avoiding mistakes in meal planning!!
Nutrients for strong bones
Calcium is the most important nutrient needed for healthy bone development and maintenance. In fact, 99% of the calcium in our body is stored within our bones and teeth. Here calcium maintains normal growth, provides structural support and strengthens the bones. The other 1% of calcium is involved in muscle contractions, nerve transmissions and, hormone and enzyme release. Calcium needs are much higher during:
- Pregnancy/ lactation
- Childhood/ adolescence
- Older age
Food sources of calcium:
- Beverages, fortified with Calcium (eg. orange juice, soy beverages)
- Tofu and fortified soy products
- Dark green vegetables: Broccoli, Chinese Cabbage, Kale, Spinach
- Fish: Sardines, Salmon (canned consumed with bones)
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is crucial for adequate absorption of calcium. If you get sufficient calcium but have low intake vitamin D, calcium will not be absorbed or used up by the body. The reason why it is known as the sunshine vitamin is because our skin is able to produce it through ultra violet light absorption from the sun. This is our primary source of the vitamin.
You may need more vitamin D if you:
- Don’t spend a lot of time in the sun
- Have a darker skin tone
- Are over the age of 50
Food sources of Vitamin D:
- Fatty fish: Salmon, Mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Vitamin D fortified milk, orange juice, soy milk
Other important nutrients for healthy bones:
Foods that interfere with Calcium Absorption:
- Oxalates & Phytates: Certain plant foods naturally have chemicals such as phytic acids or oxalic acids, that are known to decrease calcium absorption.
Foods containing high amounts of oxalic acids include:
- Collard greens
Foods containing high amounts of Phytic acids include:
- Whole grains
- Wheat bran
- Soy isolates
These are all foods that are part of a healthy diet and should not be avoided in order to improve bone health, because decreasing these healthy foods will then lead to other health issues like high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure etc. The idea is to find the perfect balance between bone enhancing foods and manipulating the timing and spacing of them from foods that interfere!
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If you are healthy and eat according to the Canadian food guide, there is no need for additional supplementation. It is better to consume food, over supplements, because you get multiple nutrients at the same time and the interactions between nutrients within the food can also play a beneficial role. However, certain individuals who may not meet their needs from food due their age, present deficiencies or diseases may require supplementation. Please consult your doctor, or dietitian before you start supplementing, to prevent any negative effects.
When it comes to calcium supplements there are two major forms:
- Calcium carbonate: contains more calcium and is absorbed better if you eat it with a meal.
- Calcium citrate: can be eaten with or without a meal.
It is recommended to take 500 mg dose at a time, as this will allow of the best absorption. Some side effects associated with these supplements include gas, bloating, and constipation.
To Dink or Not to Drink Milk – the Great Debate
The Canadian food guide recommends that adults (age 19-50) take 2 servings of Milk and alternatives daily. This food group provides not only calcium and vitamin D, but also vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, potassium, protein and fat. These are the perfect nutrient composition needed for healthy bone development, prevention of osteoporosis, and overall health.
This food group includes items like: milk, fortified beverages, cheese and yogurt. To ensure that you are selecting the best options, opt for lower fat sources. For example, instead of selecting whole milk, choose skim milk, or 1% milk instead.
Busting some misconceptions & myths surrounding Dairy:
There is a lot of debate on whether we should be consuming dairy or any animal products at all. Although enough research suggests that following a plant-based diet is ideal for overall health and disease prevention, this is not relevant to dairy products. Dairy products are the only food group that contain nutrients not readily found in other plant foods, and finding healthy sources of those essential nutrients can become tricky if following a strict vegan diet. I’d recommend that unless you have allergy to milk, do not cut milk completely out of your life. But if you do choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is very important that your diet is planned strategically to ensure that all nutrients are being met.
Some of arguments against dairy stems from concerns about the environment, ethical concerns about animal welfare, and certain health concerns.
Growth Hormones in my Milk:
Health Canada prohibits the use of growth hormones and also restricts the use of antibiotics in animals used for producing milk. So the milk from Dairy Farmer’s of Canada is free of such chemicals. Read more about it at DairyGoodness.ca
I am lactose intolerant, so I can’t drink Milk:
Lactose intolerance tends to be a major concern for many population groups. Being lactose intolerant doesn’t mean that you can’t have dairy anymore. Lactose intolerance can be reversed. If you consume smaller quantities at one time with meals, you will be able to tolerate it much better. The more you introduce it to your diet, the more “tolerant” of lactose you become. Sometimes adding lactase pills or drops of can boost your body to digest dairy better, and will relieve the symptoms. If you still feel uncomfortable with drinking milk, then you can obtain vitamin D and calcium from other sources (as mentioned above).
It is imperative for you to know that dairy sources would be the ultimate and perfect source of calcium and vitamin D. The amount of calcium available and readily absorbed is higher in dairy than other alternatives. It is the combination of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats in dairy that collaboratively help to maintain bone health and prevent osteoporosis.
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