Guide to Eating to Combat Osteoporosis
Once you have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis, you probably are interested in learning how you can prevent further bone loss.
As part of your treatment plan, your doctor should have told you to increase the calcium intake in your diet.
But like many of us, you may not be exactly sure what that statement entails on a daily basis. This article will address the question of “what should I eat to help boost my calcium consumption”. Through wise food choices and a little forethought, you can be on the right path to help manage your low bone mass condition.
What is Osteoporosis and is it the Same as Osteopenia?
Osteoporosis is a thinning and weakening of the bone that causes your bones to become brittle and break easily. A minor fall that in many folks only produces a bruise can cause a fracture for those who have Osteoporosis.
On the other hand, osteopenia is low bone mass, but the bones have not yet become weak to the point of easy fracture. Osteopenia is a precursor to Osteoporosis and needs to be taken seriously to prevent further bone loss. Steps should be taken at this point to strengthen and protect your bones.
What Causes Low Bone Mass?
As we age, our bones naturally begin to weaken over time. This process of bone deterioration begins in most of us after the age of 35 when bone building slows down and bones start to break down faster than they are built up.
Other factors that can lead to low bone mass are:
- Gender- Females are more likely than men to develop Osteopenia or Osteoporosis
- Asian and white women are at higher risk
- Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D
- Certain medications such as long-term steroid use
- Early menopause
- Certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism and some cancers
- Unhealthy habits such as smoking, excess alcohol, and a sedentary lifestyle
- Family history of low bone mass
- Advanced age
How Much Calcium is Needed Daily?
The best source for this information is your physician or specialist treating your low bone density condition.
However, the general guideline for daily calcium requirements is as follows:
- Age 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
- Over Age 51 years: 1,200 mg
For men, the guidelines are:
- Age 19 to 70 years: 1,000 mg
- Over Age 71 years: 1,200 mg
Some studies have shown conflicting evidence that this requirement may actually be lower than our current guidelines (listed above), so it is recommended that you check with your provider regularly for their input on what your intake should be.
Don’t Forget Vitamin D
Adequate Vitamin D is necessary to help absorb the calcium into your bones. This nutrient comes naturally from sunlight, but most people do not even come close to the necessary Vitamin D requirement from this source. Therefore, supplementation is needed. Ask your provider to monitor your Vitamin D levels through regular blood tests. You may be surprised to find that you are quite deficient in your levels, which is common.
The National Institute for Health (NIH) recommends that adults 19–70 years consume 15 mcg (600 IU) of Vitamin D per day. You can achieve your daily goal through foods rich in Vitamin D, supplements, or plenty of sunshine. However, your blood test will determine how much your provider will prescribe as your individualized guideline for Vitamin D daily.
Foods That Are Loaded with Calcium
As you might expect, milk products are the best source of calcium from food. That means that yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and cows’ milk are all great sources to boost your bones.
If you are looking at alternate milk options such as almond or soy milk, check out the nutritional label to determine if calcium has been added to enrich that particular source. You may be surprised that some dairy alternatives have little to no calcium, especially organic ones.
Besides the apparent source of milk, what other foods are rich in calcium? The National Osteoporosis Foundation provides a simple-to-follow list of 25 Calcium-rich Foods, which is an excellent resource to copy off and post in your kitchen for quick reference.
Some foods high in calcium are:
- Dried figs
- Cereals with added calcium
- Soy foods
- Fruit juices with added calcium
Example Guide to Getting Adequate Calcium from Food
Eating to save your bones takes time and consideration each day. Forethought needs to be given when shopping for foods high in calcium. Meal and snack planning need to be included in your daily food choices.
This may be a new way of thinking for many but will pay off in the long run as your bones hold strong as you age.
To simplify what might be a daunting task, let’s start with the number of servings needed to meet your daily calcium requirements.
The majority of older people need between 1000 and 1200 mg of calcium daily or 3-4 servings of calcium per day. For example, each glass of milk or serving of yogurt is approximately one serving of dairy (300mg calcium).
This translates into 3 or 4 calcium-rich foods per day to meet your daily calcium requirement. Some foods are not a full serving, so you may have to adjust somewhat, but keeping things simple will help you to easily count your servings per day to meet your daily calcium goals.
The New York State Department of Health has a helpful worksheet to get you started in counting your daily intake of calcium. Once you get in the swing of checking labels and monitoring your calcium intake, it should become second nature, and you will be on your way to improved bone health.
As promised, I have developed a guide with helpful meal examples to illustrate ways to meet your calcium requirements effortlessly through food choices alone.
- Calcium enriched cereal with 1 cup milk- 2 servings of calcium
- Salmon with broccoli with cheese sauce- 2 servings of calcium
- Yogurt with granola- 1 serving
- Calcium enriched orange juice- 1 serving
- Sandwich with 2 slices of cheese- 1 serving
- Pudding dessert- 1 cup- I serving
- Omelet with shredded cheddar cheese- 1 serving
- Decaf Latte with generous milk- ½ to 1 serving depending on the amount of milk. (Just be aware that it is recommended that you drink decaf coffee in moderation for better bone health.)
- Snack of an orange and figs- ½ serving
- Shrimp with cooked kale- 1 serving
- Ice Cream- 1 serving
- Smoothie with milk, kale, figs, and chia seeds- 3 servings (Wow! A power food!) Smoothies are a wonderful way to sneak in all sorts of calcium-rich foods.
- Lasagna with ricotta cheese- 1 serving
- Oatmeal with milk- 1/2 serving
- Cheese and cracker snack- 1 serving
- Pizza- 1 serving
- Milkshake- 1 1/2 to 2 servings
Are you starting to get a sense of how to meet your daily calcium requirements through the foods that you eat? As you can see, it is fairly simple to build a diet rich in calcium once you get the hang of it.
A Word About Supplements
If you are restricted from eating dairy foods for one reason or another, it may be more of a challenge to meet the daily requirement for calcium naturally through food consumption. If that's the case, a calcium supplement is necessary.
Talk to your doctor about which calcium supplement is best for you. Watch out for fillers and ingredients that you may be allergic to, and look for a reputable source for your supplements.
Since vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA or any national body of medicine, you need to be careful about the brands that manufacture calcium. If your provider does not give you a trusted source, Consumer Reports provides a guide on choosing supplements wisely that may be of help.
Even if you do not have Osteoporosis or Osteopenia, you could be in jeopardy of developing it in the future. Since these are “silent” conditions, you may be on your way towards frail and weakened bones without any indication that you are at serious risk for fracture.
Changing your diet now to meet the daily needs for calcium and vitamin D may be the answer to saving your bones in the long run, especially if you are in the higher likelihood category for this condition or are post-menopausal. Modifying how you eat can produce significant results that will add to your quality of life in your senior years.
Written by Donna (Polymyalgia Rheumatica USA- Our Stories, owner and moderator)