Having strong and healthy bones as you get older is an absolute blessing. It can help prolong independence and improve overall quality of life. Nutrition plays a massive role in helping to keep bone mineral density high as well.
Making Your Youth Count
It’s a fact that most bone mass is laid down in the first 25-30 years of your life. This mass is carried into old age when bones start to degrade and osteoporosis often occurs.
Obviously, there are steps you can take later in life that can help reduce the chances of osteoporosis or improve the management of it. It is never too late to make changes. But it is even better if you can start early.
Building more mass earlier in life is protective in old age. The best way to do this is to pair a nutritious diet, focusing on the following nutrients with high load, uneven distribution exercise.
For example, swimming is not high load and therefore will not contribute well to bone mass. Weight lifting, on the other hand, is high load. Same thing for any form of sports that involves running or jumping.
We already know that calcium is important for strong and healthy bones.
It is drilled into people from a young age.
And while some people try to downplay the value of calcium, it is clear that it plays a role in bone mineral density.
Calcium makes up the dominant part of hydroxyapatite, which is the structure that constitutes our bones and teeth.
Obviously dairy is the most common source of calcium. But non-dairy sources include spinach, broccoli, bony fishand soybeans, amongst other calcium-rich foods.
If you are drinking a non-dairy milk alternative, it is worth making sure it’s calcium-fortified too.
If reaching calcium needs through food is unrealistic, then supplementation is also an option.
The active form of vitamin D, D3, promotes the storage of calcium in bones. To put it simply, potassium helps keep the calcium there, and D3 helps put it there in the first place.
While a lot of our vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun, we still can meet some of our needs through food.
Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium from the food you eat to help facilitate increased deposition to the bone. Consume a diet with adequate dairy, egg and fish to reap the benefits of vitamin D.
To measure your vitamin D levels, it is worth going to your GP and getting a blood test. And similarly to calcium, if you are not able to meet your needs through your lifestyle, supplementation can be an option as well.
Unlike calcium, zinc and protein, potassium isn’t actually part of the bone matrix. It is still, however, extremely important for its maintenance.
Low potassium levels, result in an increase in the acidity of the blood. In order to stabilise this acidity, the body recruits calcium from the bone matrix as a buffer. This could potentially reduce bone mass.
It makes sense to consume a potassium-rich diet. This includes foods such as bananas, beetroot, sweet potato and more. For a more complete list of potassium-rich foods, refer to the following comprehensive list.
We typically associate protein with the growth of muscle, but it is important to the growth of bone, too. Protein is an important part of the bone matrix, and thus, is necessary for the diet.
Consuming a sufficient amount of protein can help keep bone mineral density high.
Magnesium has a role to play in calcium absorption. By consuming magnesium in the form of dark leafy greens, beans and whole grains you can help your body absorb as much calcium from the food you eat as possible.
This is also a relevant point to consider when people are downplaying the importance of calcium. Often the examples used to explain why calcium is not important, involve looking at populations with significantly higher than average magnesium intake.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis. Collagen is an essential connective tissue found all throughout the body, including, in the connections involving bones. Hence, it can be considered a focal nutrient for bone health.
Vitamin C deficiency presents as scurvy where weak collagen makes for poor wound healing, unhealthy gums and no surprise, weak bones. In order to prevent scurvy and any lesser deficiencies that impede bone health, consume a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
This is a simple one though. Having a tonne of vitamin C does not seem to really help much beyond just having a more normal amount. It is important to avoid having an insufficient amount in your diet though.
Vitamin K is not a direct constituent of the bone matrix. However, it is an essential co-factor to enzymes within the matrix. These enzymes are important for bone building and maintenance, so keeping them healthy is key. Vitamin K is mostly found in dark, leafy green vegetables.
Copper is involved in a special cross-linkage between collagen and elastin (two bodily connective tissues) and as such, is important to bone health. Copper can be found in seeds and pulses.
A diet that helps your bones is relatively similar to an overall healthy diet.
Bone health benefits from a decent amount of protein, a variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
This lines up with a good quality diet regardless. Combining this with physical activity can significantly help your bone health though.