Wednesday, December 26, 2007

7 Foods for Strong Bones

Good Eats Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE
source: lifescript

If you think brittle bones are just for old people, you've got a lot to bone up on. True, osteoporosis usually affects women after age 50, but bone mass starts to deplete in your 30s. If you're a teenager, a grandmother or any age in between, a good diet will lower your chances of developing a weak and fragile skeleton. Strong bones take more than the occasional glass of milk. Here are seven foods that are surprisingly good for your skeleton…

1. Pumpkin Seeds and Brazil Nuts
When you think of bone-building minerals, you probably think of calcium. Our bones are largely made of calcium, but other minerals form a strong frame, too. In fact, 50% of the body's magnesium resides in our bones. Research shows that a low magnesium intake is linked to bone fragility and calcium loss, most likely because poor magnesium status alters calcium metabolism. 

Nuts and seeds of all types are good sources of magnesium, but pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts outshine the rest. Definitely eat up for your bones, but don't overdo it: Nuts are a high-fat, high-calorie snack. Limit your serving to just one ounce – about 1/4 cup – per day.

A few ways to go a little nuts:

Pre-measure a 1-ounce portion to take to work for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Sprinkle a tablespoon or two onto your mixed green salad.

Toss some with green beans or sautéed spinach.
2. Walnuts
These nuts – rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid – deserve their own category. Bones aren't a hard, brittle skeleton like many people think. Actually, they're living organs with live cells and body fluids. Every day, bone cells break down and build back up. That's how they remain strong and repair after a break.

A January 2007 Nutrition Journal study suggests that the ALA in walnuts protects your skeleton by decreasing the rate of bone breakdown while keeping bone formation at a constant level. So grab a small handful of walnuts for a snack or sprinkle a couple tablespoons into your oatmeal. Other foods with ALA include: flaxseed oil, ground flaxseeds, walnut oil, soybeans, soybean oil, and canola oil.
3. Tap Water
Bet you couldn't have guessed this one. Famed for its role in dental health, fluoride is also a component of your bones and adds to their density. Many communities add this mineral to their drinking water to help prevent dental decay. If you drink only bottled water, you may not be getting adequate fluoride to protect your teeth or your bones. 

4. Leafy Greens
Make green your new favorite color. Your salads and steamed greens are packed with bone-building nutrients, particularly calcium, magnesium and vitamin K. 

Vitamin K is critical in the formation of bone proteins. Research shows that too little of this fat-soluble vitamin increases your risk of hip fracture, but eating enough vitamin K decreases urinary calcium losses. One cup of raw or a half-cup of cooked greens provides several times the recommended intake of 90 micrograms per day.

Here are a few ways to sneak some extra green in today:

Add lettuce to your sandwiches. Even iceberg lettuce has vitamin K.

Slip spinach leaves between layers of noodles in homemade lasagna.

Start your dinner with a salad of spinach or mixed greens.

Have something unusual for dinner. Look for dandelion greens or Swiss chard.
5. Beans: Pintos, Black Beans, White Beans, Kidney Beans
Have beans for supper tonight. You'll get another good boost of magnesium and even some calcium. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 2 1/2 cups of beans and other legumes (peas, lentils) weekly. If you're a bean eater, you might also reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity. Problem is, most people don't know what to do with them. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

In the beginning of the week, open and rinse a can of beans, and store them in your refrigerator. Each night, toss a heaping spoonful into your mixed green salad.

Top nachos with red beans.

Mix any canned bean into vegetable soups.

Add black beans or kidney beans to pasta salads.

Instead of coleslaw or potato salad, bring a bean salad to your next potluck supper.

6. Salmon
Calcium may be the chief bone-forming mineral, but it's nothing without its sidekick vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption. A small serving of salmon – just 3 1/2 ounces – gives you 90% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. As with low intakes of vitamin K, vitamin D deficiency is linked to hip fracture. In one scientific review by the American Medical Association, 50% of women with osteoporosis who were hospitalized for hip fracture had signs of vitamin D deficiency. 

If you want a double-whammy of bone-building nutrients, don't just look to fresh fish. Canned salmon provides vitamin D as well as a good dose of calcium… as long as you eat the bones. (Don't worry, they're soft.) 

7. Milk
Okay, not so surprising. But since milk is the most likely source of both calcium and vitamin D, it's worthy of attention. Many of us forget about milk once we outgrow our crazy straws and strawberry powder, but bones don't stop developing in our teens. We can add bone mass even in our 20s, but only if we consume adequate amounts of these nutritional elements. 

Once we reach menopause, our bones lose calcium more rapidly than at any other time due to a loss of estrogen. Here again, calcium and vitamin D can help delay the loss of bone mass.

Milk is a good source of vitamin D because it is fortified, but cheese, yogurt and ice cream are generally not fortified and contain very little vitamin D. Choose nonfat or 1% milk. Avoid the others because of their saturated fat and cholesterol content. Pour a nice cold glass and enjoy – with or without a cookie. (See related article: How to Spot Good Fats from Bad Fats)

More Dos and Don'ts for Strong Bones

Do eat your fruits and veggies.
You've been told this over and over, but it's worth repeating. Higher intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density. Researchers can't say exactly why, but fruits and vegetables are loaded with an array of nutrients that have been studied for their potential role in building strong bones.

Do learn to love exercise.
Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Weight-bearing exercises like running, dancing and lifting weights stress your bones in a good way. This signals your body to make more bone cells.

Don't drink to excess.
Alcohol can inhibit the formation of new bone cells.

Don't drink cola often, even diet and decaffeinated.
Regular cola drinkers have lower bone mineral density than women who rarely drink cola.

Don't smoke.
The more you smoke, the greater your risk of a fracture.

Don't worry about caffeine… if you get enough calcium.
Caffeine does cause you to lose more calcium in your urine for one to three hours after ingestion, but your 24-hour calcium loss shouldn't be any greater than if you didn't have caffeine. Drinking more than two or three cups of coffee per day is associated with bone loss in postmenopausal women when their calcium intake is inadequate. Aim for 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily – the equivalent of four cups of milk or yogurt – if you've already hit menopause. Otherwise, 1,000 mg should do.

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