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Small Steps to Build Strong Bones

April 2010

Ritu Sharma, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University
Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator,
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body and it is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. We need calcium throughout our lifespan, even when we stop building bones. But, as people reach mid-adulthood, bones slowly begin to thin out. In women, the process of bone thinning increases considerably after menopause.

Nutrition experts have set daily Recommended Adequate Intakes set for calcium. For men and women ages 19 to 50, the need is 1,000 milligrams (mg) a day. For people age 51 +, the recommended intake is 1,200 mg of calcium daily. The best way to meet calcium requirements is through your diet. By eating the right foods, you can achieve peak bone mass and enhance bone density at any age.

To begin with, one of the best sources of calcium is milk. An 8 oz cup of milk contains 300 mg of calcium. If you are not a milk drinker, then a cup of yogurt or one ounce of Swiss cheese has about the same amount of calcium as milk. Also, if you are lactose intolerant, there are plenty of dairy products that are lactose-free or lactose-reduced in the supermarket and the calcium content in these products is not affected by removing the lactose.

Next on the list of calcium rich foods are sardines. Consuming 3 ounces of canned sardines provides a little more calcium than a cup of milk. Surprisingly, some leafy green vegetables are also good sources of calcium. A half cup of Chinese cabbage contains the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk. A cup of turnip greens has 200 mg of calcium.

Another category of calcium rich foods are fortified foods which have nutrients and minerals added to them. The calcium content of fortified orange juice and fortified cereal are about 240 mg and 1000 mg respectively. Soy foods are another good source of calcium. One half cup of tofu provides about 258 milligrams of calcium. Soy foods also contain plenty of isoflavones which help to strengthen bone density. Salmon and other types of fatty fish have calcium and vitamin D which provides bone boosting nutrients to the body. Nuts and seeds like pistachios, almonds, and sunflower seeds also contain calcium, in addition to protein, which helps build strong bones.

Too much salt in the diet increases the amount of calcium excreted in urine. To prevent bone loss, try easing up on the amount of salt you eat by trying unsalted nuts and low sodium soups. Keeping salt intake under 2,300 mg a day is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and health experts. If you are unable to meet your calcium requirements through food, a supplement will be necessary to reach your daily requirements. Supplements generally come in 600 mg tablets that should be taken at two different meals throughout the day for maximum effectiveness.

There are no shortcuts to healthy bones. However, taking small steps to improve your diet, along with regular exercise, will help to keep your body healthier. Obtain the daily Recommended Adequate Intakes through a variety of calcium-rich foods and/or calcium supplements. Remember, eating smart and including high calcium foods and beverages will keep your bones healthy throughout your lifetime.