Did you know at least one in three women and one in five men will suffer an osteoporotic fracture at some point in their lives?
According to Osteoporosis Canada, at least two million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to thin and become porous which impacts bone strength and increases the risk of breaking bones.
No single cause has been found, but health care professionals do know that a diet rich in certain nutrients can help lower one’s risk of bone loss, thus preventing bone fractures.
“Physical activity and genetics also play a role, but diet can make or break our bone health,” registered dietitian Tristica Curley of Fueling with Food says. “The impact of diet on our bone health begins at birth and continues until we die. While we are growing, up until about our early 20s, diet will impact how dense our bones grow. Adequate nutrient intake will ensure our bones reach peak bone mass or become as dense and as strong as possible. From our early 20s on, diet can prevent bone losses and maintain the bone mass we have.”
In order to have good bone health, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is what you’ll need, along with protein, vitamin A, magnesium and vitamin K, Curley adds.
So what are some of the best foods for you to include in your diet to strengthen your bones? Curley, along with registered dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio of Dietetic Directions and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada, reveal their list in support of Osteoporosis Awareness this November.
Low-fat milk or calcium-fortified soy milk
“Interestingly, almost all of the calcium in our body is found in our bones,” D’Ambrosio says. “Therefore, if we don’t achieve adequate calcium intake through our diet (or supplements), our body will pull calcium out of our bones and use this to maintain constant calcium amounts in our blood and in our muscles. This makes our bones weaker and puts us at a higher risk for fracture.”
And because our bones are living tissue, they are constantly breaking down and releasing minerals and depositing calcium to make new bones, D’Ambrosio adds. This is why she encourages people to ensure they’re meeting their dietary calcium requirements, and one of the top sources of calcium is cow’s milk or calcium-fortified soy milk.
“Milk contains magnesium, vitamin D and phosphorus which support calcium absorption,” she says. “One cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium.”
If you can’t tolerate dairy, Curley says non-dairy sources like almond or coconut milk will provide some calcium and vitamin D, but will lack the protein and vitamin A found in dairy milk.
Choose plain yogurt over Greek yogurt, D’Ambrosio says, because of the higher calcium content.
“Straining out the extra whey in yogurt makes Greek yogurt thick, creamy and higher in protein but lower in calcium” she explains. “Regular yogurt delivers almost twice the bone-strengthening mineral calcium.”
Plain yogurt contains 263-275 milligrams of calcium, and Greek yogurt contains only 180-212 milligrams, she adds.
Salmon (preferably canned with the bones)
“Fatty fish such as salmon is a good source of vitamin D, which increases calcium absorption and the amount of calcium deposited into our bones,” Curley says. “Aim to get two servings per week of salmon. A supplement may be recommended for the winter. Salmon is also a rich source of protein, which is responsible for making collagen, which maintains bone strength and helps repair bone injury.”
According to D’Ambrosio, salmon is one of few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. And, she adds, by getting canned salmon with the bones, you’re increasing your calcium intake.”
“Don’t be afraid of the bones,” she says. “Simply remove any large pieces and smash the thin salmon bones with a fork.”
“A recent study came out in April of this year that showed regular consumption of prunes aids in bone health and decreasing risk of osteoporosis,” Curley says. “Prunes contain phenolic compounds that signal cells to increase formation of bone.”
Prunes are also a good source of vitamin K, she adds, as well as gut health.
Another study published last month found that eating five to six prunes a day for a six-month period helped postmenopausal women with low bone density in preventing bone loss.
A good source of protein and magnesium, which both ensure strong bone mass, can be found in nuts, Curley says.
One 2010 study out of Barcelona, Spain also found that eating nuts, along with a high intake of calcium, is associated with protection against bone demineralization.
This one may be surprising, D’Ambrosio says, because not many people realize tofu is often enriched with calcium.
“In a three-quarter cup serving, there is about 302-525 milligrams of calcium,” she says. “If you are uncertain if your tofu is fortified, check the nutrition label for the per cent daily value of calcium as well as the ingredient list to see if calcium sulfate is added.”
“Cooking collard greens increases the amount of calcium available,” D’Ambrosio reveals. “One cup of cooked collard green contain approximately 330 milligrams of calcium.”
These greens also contain vitamin C and vitamin K, which are helpful for maintaining strong bones, she adds.
Other dark leafy vegetables also containing calcium, like kale, turnip greens and spinach, but to a lower level.
Despite the low level of calcium, spinach is a good source of vitamin K and magnesium, Curley says.