We need a sturdy support system to lean on and carry us through life. Our bodies are no different; that’s why we have 206 bones that keep us moving and standing tall. Bone health is measured by bone mass, or the amount of minerals stored in a specified volume of bone. Several factors determine bone mass including age, gender, ethnicity, physical activity, and, of course, nutrition.
Growing and Maintaining Bone Mass
As babies, we’re born with around 300 soft bones that eventually fuse together to create bigger and stronger bones. It’s imperative to form bone-friendly habits during early childhood years through adolescence. Around age 20-30, our bodies have stopped building bone and have reached peak bone mass. From this point, bone mass cannot become any greater, but it can be well-maintained through thoughtful nutrition and regular movement.
Key Nutrients for Bone Health
It’s the body’s most abundant mineral. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is found in bones and teeth. Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are rich in calcium, but a dairy-free diet doesn’t have to mean a low-calcium diet. Other great sources of calcium include bread; dark and leafy green vegetables; broccoli; and calcium-fortified foods like juice, plant milks, and cereals. Adults need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. The majority of American adults meet this recommendation, but for those who don’t, calcium supplementation should be considered. Calcium carbonate supplements are inexpensive and absorbed well when taken with food. Calcium citrate supplements are more expensive and are excellently absorbed. Note: calcium can only be absorbed in increments of 500mg, so take one calcium pill or chew at a time.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D earned its name by our skin’s unique ability to create it from UV rays. Going outside for 10-30 minutes provides our bodies with sufficient vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption. Sunshine isn’t the only way to get plenty of vitamin D. Eating foods like salmon; sardines; mushrooms; eggs; or vitamin D-fortified foods such as orange juice, dairy, and cereals, can help with meeting the body’s vitamin D needs. We can maximize absorption by incorporating adequate fat into our diet. If struggling with low vitamin D levels, consider talking to a Registered Dietitian or doctor about supplementing with vitamin D3.
Additional key nutrients
Though lesser-known, phosphorus plays a crucial role in bone health. The average adult consumes plenty of phosphorus because it is present in almost all foods, with meats, milk, and cheese being the richest sources. Magnesium, which can be found in broccoli, squash, beans, nuts, and chocolate, is also essential in maintaining and building bone mass. Lastly, we can’t forget fluoride, as it supports calcium and phosphorus deposits in the skeletal system. In America, our main source of fluoride is fluoridated water.
Eating for a Strong Support System
Enjoying a wide variety of foods and finding nutritional balance is a great step toward bone, and overall, health! Intentionally including foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other key bone health nutrients is a sure-fire way to maximize bone mass for a life-long sturdy, strong support system.
Caroline Pruente, MS, RDN is a nutrition therapist and Registered Dietitian at Memphis Nutrition Group. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit MemphisNutritionGroup.com.