Eat Well to Be Well: Build better bones for a better tomorrow

May is designated as National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. There are 206 bones in the human body and now is the time to learn how to take care of them before it’s too late.By doing so, you can prevent painful fractures and disability. Here are the facts:

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What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a brittle bone disease that can weaken bones to the point of easily fracturing with a fall or even just by bending over to pick something up or coughing. Our bones are a living tissue constantly being absorbed and replaced. Just because we can’t see them, they need taken care of to slow down and preferably prevent this disease.

What are the symptoms? Your first symptom unfortunately may be a fracture. It tends to sneak up on people as there are no symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, you may experience one or more of the following: back pain, shrinkage in height, stooped posture or a dowager’s hump and easily breaking a bone.

Who is at risk? Osteoporosis affects women more than men. Women have less bone mass than men and tend to have a smaller frame size. Aging is another factor that will increase our risk. Over the age of 50, one in two women and one in four men will fracture a bone due to our bones becoming more porous and brittle. Low bone density or osteoporosis will affect half of all Americans over age 50 by the year 2020. Ethnicity plays a role as Caucasian and Asian women are more at risk. Knowing your family medical history is important since having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis means you are at a greater risk of developing it.

Are there any other risk factors? Sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, anorexia, thyroid problems, lowered sex hormones levels of estrogen and testosterone and a low calcium intake all contribute to making osteoporosis more likely to occur.

Many of the above risk factors are uncontrollable; our gender, age, family medical history and ethnicity. But one very important risk factor we do have under our control is dietary habits. Specifically, our consumption of calcium and vitamin D. Understanding the importance of these key nutrients in preventing osteoporosis will be one of the ways to lessen your likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body with 99 percent of it distributed in our bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is found in body cells and fluids. When our intake of calcium is low, bone resorption occurs, meaning the body tries to maintain blood calcium levels by breaking down bone to release calcium. If low calcium intake continues over many years, the rate of bone loss increases, thus setting in motion the development of osteoporosis.

It is critical to obtain adequate amounts of calcium our whole life. Children ages 9-18 need 1300 mg a day, adults age 19-50 need 1000mg and increases to 1200 mg at age 51 and older.

Here are some good sources of calcium with dairy foods being the best absorbed:

Food, amount……. mg of calcium

Milk, 1 cup……………………….. 300
Yogurt, 1 cup……………………. 400
Cottage cheese, ½ cup…………. 77
Cheddar cheese, 1 ½ oz. …….. 288
Ice cream, frozen yogurt, ½ cup 90
Soup made with milk, 1 cup … 170
Macaroni and cheese, 1 cup … 100
Almonds, 1 cup …………………. 378
Bok choy, ½ cup …………………. 79
Sardines with bones, 3 oz. ….. 325
Broccoli, 1 ½ cup ………………93

Vitamin D is the other nutrient important in bone health. This nutrient is necessary to help us absorb and maintain adequate calcium levels. As we age, the risk of becoming vitamin D deficient increases. The Dietary Reference Intakes recommends children and adults ages 1-70 need 15 micrograms a day and 20 micrograms a day for anyone over 70. A nickname for vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin since our body can make it from being in the sunlight. This is actually our best source of vitamin D, however, here are some good food sources to choose from:

Food, amount………….. mcg of Vitamin D

Liver, 3 oz. …………………………. 5 mcg
Sardines, 3 oz. ……………………. 5.8 mcg
Salmon, 3 oz. ……………………… 15 mcg
Cod liver oil, 1 tsp. ………………. 11 mcg
Fortified milk, 1 cup …………….. 3.2 mcg
Tuna, 3 oz………………………….. 5.7 mcg

There are many ways you can incorporate calcium and vitamin D into your diet throughout the day. Try the following ideas to help get you started:

  • Use plain or vanilla yogurt as a vegetable dip.
  • Buy calcium fortified juices and cereals.
  • Make oatmeal with milk.
  • Substitute plain yogurt for sour cream in recipes.
  • Add shredded cheese anytime to salads, soups or casseroles.
  • Get outdoors several times a week to help your body make vitamin D.
  • A cheese stick and a handful of almonds make an easy, quick snack.

The National Dairy Council can give you many other ideas on increasing calcium consumption. You can find them at www.nationaldairycouncil.org. Here are a couple of recipes from the website:

Cheesy Chicken Crunchers
Serves 6 and contains 20 percent of the daily value of calcium

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 egg whites
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cups cornflakes
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 chicken breast fillets, cut into strips
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Set up three bowls with the following: 1) flour; 2) an egg-wash made by beating the eggs and milk together; 3) cornflakes mixed with cheese
  3. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Dip chicken pieces in flour, then into the egg-wash, then roll in the cheesy-flakes mixture, coating the entire piece of chicken, and place on the baking pan.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes, turning halfway through to ensure browning. Serve with ketchup or BBQ sauce, if desired.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Squares
Makes 9 servings and contains 20 percent of the daily value of calcium.

  • 1 cup crunchy wheat and barley cereal
  • 3 cups strawberry yogurt
  • 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen unsweetened strawberries (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup light or fat-free whipped topping (optional)
  1. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil. Sprinkle cereal evenly on the bottom of the pan.
  2. Place yogurt, strawberries and condensed milk in a blender, cover and blend until smooth. Put the mixture over top of cereal, gently smoothing yogurt mixture to edges of pan.
  3. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and freeze for 8 hours or until firm. Use edges of foil to loosen and remove from pan. Let thaw for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into squares and top with whipped topping if desired.

Graphic thanks to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].


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