Never did I think about my growing bones as a kid while my mom forced me to drink a cup of milk each night at dinner GAG.  But now as a mother of 2 growing children,  not only am I thinking about their growing bones, I think about keeping my aging bones strong and healthy as well.

Building and maintaining healthy bones are a must for a healthy body.  Bones support your body and allow you to move. They protect your brain, heart, and other organs from injury.  Bone is a living, growing tissue that most of us take for granted. It is made mostly of two materials: collagen,  a protein that provides a soft framework, and calcium, a mineral that adds strength and hardness. This combination makes bones strong and flexible enough to hold up under stress.

Bone releases calcium and other minerals into the body when you need them for other uses. Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood and into early adulthood.  Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass.

For most of us, the age 30 ship has sailed. So at this point, it’s too late to re-build.  We must focus on keeping the bones we already have strong and healthy. 

Fortunately, I have 8 tips for you:

1. Eat Lots of Vegetables
Vegetables are great for your bones. Some studies suggest that Vitamin C – found in most veggies may protect bone cells from damage. Vegetables also seem to increase bone mineral density, also known as bone density.  Bone density is a measurement of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in your bones. Both osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis (brittle bones) are conditions characterized by low bone density.  A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralization during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults.  Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women.  A study in women over 50 found those who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to women who rarely ate them.  One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults is increased bone turnover, or the process of breaking down and forming new bone.  In a three-month study, women who consumed more than nine servings of broccoli, cabbage, parsley or other plants high in bone-protective antioxidants had a decrease in bone turnover.

2. Perform Strength Training and Weight-Bearing Exercises
Weight-lifting or high impact exercise are the best types of activity for bone health and can be extremely beneficial for preventing bone loss in older adults.  Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.  However, one study found little improvement in bone density among older men who performed the highest level of weight-bearing exercise over nine months.  Strength-training exercise is not only beneficial for increasing muscle mass. It may also help protect against bone loss in younger and older women, including those with osteoporosis, osteopenia or breast cancer.

3. Consume Enough Protein
Whether plant based or animal – make sure to get your protein ladies and gents.  You need this for healthy bones.  In fact, about 50% of bone is made of protein.  Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption. Research also suggests that older women, in particular, appear to have better bone density when they consume higher amounts of protein – plant or animal based. In a large, six-year observational study of over 144,000 postmenopausal women, higher protein intake was linked to a lower risk of forearm fractures and significantly higher bone density in the hip, spine and total body.

4. Eat High-Calcium Foods Throughout the Day

Calcium the most important mineral for bone health, and it’s the main mineral found in your bones.  Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it’s important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength. The RDI for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most people, although teens need 1,300 mg and older women require 1,200 mg. However, the amount of calcium your body actually absorbs can vary greatly.  Interestingly, if you eat a meal containing more than 500 mg of calcium, your body will absorb much less of it than if you consume a lower amount.  Therefore, it’s best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day by including one high calcium food at each meal.  Keep in mind that dairy is not the only way to get calcium.  Dark leafy greens, black beans and almonds are also excellent sources of calcium.

5. Get Plenty of Vitamin D
You need D for strong bones.  Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss than people who get enough.  Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting about one billion people worldwide.  You may be able to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and food sources such as fatty fish, liver and cheese. However, many people need to supplement with up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain optimal levels.

6. Avoid Very Low-Calorie Diets
Dropping calories too low is never a good idea.  In addition to slowing down your metabolism, creating rebound hunger and causing muscle mass loss, it can also be harmful to bone health.  Studies have shown that diets providing fewer than 1,000 calories per day can lead to lower bone density in normal-weight, overweight or obese individuals.  In one study, obese women who consumed 925 calories per day for four months experienced a significant loss of bone density from their hip and upper thigh region, regardless of whether they performed resistance training.  To build and maintain strong bones, follow a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of protein and foods rich in vitamins and minerals that support bone health.

7. Maintain a Stable, Healthy Weight
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health.  For example, being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.  This is especially the case in postmenopausal women who have lost the bone-protective effects of estrogen.  In fact, low body weight is the main factor contributing to reduced bone density and bone loss in this age group.  On the other hand, some studies suggest that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight.  While weight loss typically results in some bone loss, it is usually less pronounced in obese individuals than normal-weight individuals.  Overall, repeatedly losing and regaining weight appears particularly detrimental to bone health, as well as losing a large amount of weight in a short time.  Maintaining a stable normal or slightly higher than normal weight is your best bet when it comes to protecting your bone health.

8. Consume Foods High in Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects.  They’ve also been shown to help protect against bone loss during the aging process.  In addition to including omega-3 fats in your diet, it’s also important to make sure your balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats isn’t too high.  In one large study of over 1,500 adults aged 45–90, those who consumed a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids tended to have lower bone density than people with a lower ratio of the two fats.  Generally speaking, it’s best to aim for an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4:1 or lower.  In addition, although most studies have looked at the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, one controlled study found that omega-3 plant sources helped decrease bone breakdown and increase bone formation.  Plant sources of omega-3 fats include chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Bone health is important at all stages of life.  However, having strong bones is something people tend to take for granted, as symptoms often don’t appear until bone loss is advanced.  Fortunately, there are many nutrition and lifestyle habits that can help build and maintain strong bones — and it’s never too late to start.

Healthy Recipe:  3 Bean Salad
Click here for recipe…