Without bones, we would be piles of mush on the floor. Sounds dramatic, and the image it conjures is a little graphic, but it’s the truth. Bones offer support and rigidity to our bodies. Our ribs protect our lungs and heart, our spines keep us upright, our skull protects our brain and our arm and leg bones make us functional. You’re probably getting the idea by now- bones are extremely important. By the same logic, it is important to keep them healthy. If you’re interested in keeping all 206 of your bones in good shape, well into old age, read on.
Making Your Youth Count
It’s a fact that most bone mass is laid down in the first 25-30 years of your life. This mass is carried into old age when bones start to degrade and osteoporosis rears its ugly head. Building more mass earlier in life is protective in old age. The best way to do this is to pair a nutritious diet, focusing on the following nutrients with high load, uneven distribution exercise.
For example, swimming is not high load and therefore will not contribute well to bone mass. Weight lifting, on the other hand, is high load. Running is not unevenly distributed, so try sports with frequent direction change, instead.
We already know that calcium is important for strong and healthy bones, right? Our parents drilled this into us as kids, pushing glasses of milk into our hands, with the promise of growing big and strong one day. As per usual, mother knows best.
Calcium is very important to bone health. It makes up the dominate part of hydroxyapatite, which is the structure that constitutes our bones and teeth. What most Mums and Dads fail to teach though, is the variety of other foods in which we find calcium.
Non-milk drinkers can enjoy a healthy skeletal system too! Spinach, broccoli, bony fish (e.g. salmon) and soybeans are just some of the other delicious foods that are calcium-rich. If you are drinking a non-dairy milk alternative, make sure it’s calcium-fortified.
If reaching calcium needs through food is unrealistic, then supplementation is also an option.
The active form of vitamin D, D3, promotes the storage of calcium in bones. To put it simply, potassium helps keep the calcium there, and D3 helps put it there in the first place.
While a lot of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sun, we still can meet some of our needs through food.
Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium from the food you eat to help facilitate increased deposition to the bone. Consume a diet with adequate dairy, egg and fish to reap the benefits of vitamin D.
To measure your vitamin D levels, it only takes going to your GP and getting a blood test. And similarly to calcium, if you are not able to meet your needs through your lifestyle, supplementation can be an option as well.
Unlike calcium, phosphorous, zinc and protein, potassium isn’t actually part of the bone matrix. It is still, however, extremely important for its maintenance.
Low potassium levels, result in acidic blood. In order to stabilise this acidity, the body recruits calcium from the bone matrix as a buffer. The result is an acid-base balance with the trade of decreased bone mass.
In order to maintain your bone mass, consume potassium-rich bananas, beets, sweet potato and more. For a more complete list of potassium-rich foods, refer to the following; health.com.
We typically associate protein with the growth of muscle, but it is important to the growth of bone, too. Protein is an important part of the bone matrix, and thus, is necessary for the diet. Make sure your protein sources are of high quality and lean.
Phosphorus and Zinc
Phosphorus and zinc are usually found in protein, which is very handy because both are essential to hydroxyapatite in bone and teeth. Mother nature must be looking out for our bones and teeth (even if we aren’t)!
Magnesium has a role to play in calcium absorption. By consuming magnesium in the form of dark leafy greens, beans and whole grains you can help your body absorb as much calcium from the food you eat as possible. A greater calcium supply means more bone mass!
Vitamin C is essential for strong collagen. Collagen is an essential connective tissue found all throughout the body, including, in the connections involving bones. Hence, it can be considered a focal nutrient for bone health.
Vitamin C deficiency presents as scurvy where weak collagen makes for poor wound healing, unhealthy gums and no surprise, weak bones. In order to prevent scurvy and any lesser deficiencies that make impeded on bone health, consume a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
Like vitamin C, manganese also has a role to play in collagen synthesis. Therefore, we can consider it important to bone health, too. Manganese can be found in leafy greens, nuts and grains. Consume these with some oranges or tomatoes for vitamin C, and your collagen will be nice and healthy and strong!
Vitamin K is not a direct constituent of the bone matrix. However, it is an essential co-factor to enzymes within the matrix. These enzymes are important for bone building and maintenance, so keeping them healthy is key. In order to keep these enzymes happy, consume lots of leafy greens for a vitamin K supply!
Copper is involved in a special cross-linkage between collagen and elastin (two bodily connective tissues) and as such, is important to bone health. Copper can be found in seeds and pulses.
In review, a diet that helps your bones probably helps a lot of other organs too. Bone health demands lean protein, a variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts and whole grains. This is the type of diet I would recommend to anyone for improving almost any aspect of health. So, do yourself a favour and looks after your bones, you might even look after a few other organs while you’re at it!
Renae Earle is a Masters of Dietetics student at the University of Queensland. Having achieved her Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Science with distinction, she is motivated to complete her studies and become an accredited practicing dietitian.
Renae is passionate about evidence-based practice and debunking nutrition myths. She believes that in today’s fad celebrity diet culture, it is increasingly important to deliver the facts. She aims to help people achieve a sustainable and healthful lifestyle by combating the flurry of misinformation offered by tabloids and social media.
In order to achieve this goal, Renae has dedicated herself to the field of nutrition. She is well educated on a wide range of nutrition topics such as supplementation, chronic disease, restrictive diets and metabolism.
Renae has a keen interest in offering personalised nutrition plans that suit the specific needs of her future clients.