Nutrition and bone health: which foods are best for you

Osteoporosis is a condition that affects a large proportion of the elderly population, mainly women, and can have serious repercussions. It is therefore essential to take care of bone health, even at an advanced age. We can do a lot to prevent states of nutrient deficiency and keep our bones healthy through our behaviour.

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Osteoporosis is a condition characterised by bone loss and alterations in bone composition, resulting in a weakened skeleton and increased risk of fractures. This disease is associated with menopause and considered an unavoidable condition with advancing age, with the risk of arriving late at its diagnosis, when the bones, now weakened, are predisposed to fracture. It is therefore important to adopt healthy habits for the wellbeing of our bones.

Bone deterioration can be counteracted primarily by intervening in lifestyle. The main cornerstones for maintaining healthy bones are:

  • Take adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D with the help of a balanced diet
  • Practise regular physical activity
  • Maintain an appropriate weight
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not abuse alcohol

Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D

A healthy and balanced diet is fundamental for the health and wellbeing of our bodies and can help with normal bone maintenance, which is fundamental in people who are particularly at risk of bone fragility, such as menopausal women, since they tend to develop osteoporosis. Our skeleton contains most of the calcium in the body, which is why this mineral is important for maintaining normal bones.

To ensure an adequate daily intake of calcium, it’s important to follow a proper diet. The average daily requirement of calcium depends on age and is higher in young people (11-17 years), pregnant women and the over 60s. A state of calcium deficiency in adults is generally associated with reduced bone mass and increased fracture risk.

In addition to calcium, vitamin D also plays an important role in maintaining normal bones, as it aids the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. This is why a vitamin D deficiency is one of the risk factors for osteoporosis.

It’s worth remembering that there is little vitamin D in food: only 20% of the daily requirement comes from food. Most vitamin D is in fact produced by the skin as a result of sun exposure, although this process becomes less efficient as we age.

Regular physical activity

Practising regular physical activity is essential for maintaining bone function and structure at all ages. In childhood and adolescence, in particular, it helps achieve greater bone density than those who are sedentary.

You don’t need to play sports at a competitive level, you just need an active lifestyle and daily exercise to keep your musculoskeletal system strong enough. In particular, exercise done against gravity, in which the movement of the body weighs on the skeleton, are recommended to benefit the bones, as they stimulate bone metabolism. These activities include, for example, walking, running and dancing. Toning exercises such as push-ups or weight lifting are also useful.

Modest physical activity should also be encouraged in the elderly, as it can contribute to a reduction in the risk of falls and, therefore, fractures.

Keep your weight under control

To prevent osteoporosis, it’s important to avoid being overweight and obesity, as well as excessive thinness. Being overweight, particularly in older women, increases the risk of fracture. It can also lead to lower vitamin D availability, which tends to be sequestered by adipose tissue. On the other hand, excessive thinness should also be avoided, as it is a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Beware of smoking and alcohol

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are some of the risk factors for osteoporosis. They negatively interfere with bone metabolism. They also reduce calcium absorption in the intestines and the synthesis of hormones that stimulate bone metabolism.

Achieving the recommended amounts of calcium in the diet is not difficult, unless you have intolerances or allergies to food sources. For people at risk of reduced intake through diet or lifestyle, the use of supplements may be considered, but should still be recommended by a doctor.

The main calcium-rich foods recommended include:

  • Milk and dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, along with possibly some waters that have a high calcium content. To limit the amount of fat present, you can opt for skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and for low-fat yoghurt and cheeses
  • Oily fish (e.g. anchovies, cod, mackerel, etc.), octopus, squid and prawns
  • Fruit and vegetables Some of the most calcium-rich vegetables include rocket, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, artichokes, spinach and cardoons
  • Dried fruit (100 grams of almonds are equivalent to a glass of milk in terms of calcium). The ideal is to consume a small portion every day, but without exaggerating, because they are very calorific
  • Legumes, many of which are a good source of calcium; in particular, chickpeas, lentils, cannellini, borlotti and black-eyed bean, should also feature on the table.

For the wellbeing of the skeletal system, you should avoid following drastic diets or changing your diet without consulting your doctor, who will assess your peak bone mass if necessary.

As for vitamin D, it’s produced in adequate amounts through exposure to sun. The main dietary sources of vitamin D, although they contribute less than sun exposure, are eggs, cod liver oil, fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna) and dairy products. A simple blood test is needed to measure vitamin D levels, which will reveal any deficiency.

To promote the assimilation of calcium, it’s useful to follow some precautions, trying to limit, with the right balance, those foods that can reduce its absorption.

The main tips are:

  • Limit consumption of salt and sodium-enriched foods in general (such as cured meats and sausages). Excess salt increases calcium loss through urine
  • Don’t exaggerate with an excessive protein diet, because it increases the elimination of calcium in the urine
  • Don’t overdo it with whole foods or foods rich in fibre
  • Limit alcohol and drinks containing theine and caffeine, because these substances negatively affect the intestinal absorption of calcium

Vitamin D in food

Healthy eating

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