Osteoporosis- how to avoid it
Simone Austin Accredited Practising Dietitian
Osteoporosis is a chronic, debilitating disease. Nearly 1 in 10 Australians 50 years or over suffer with osteoporosis or osteopenia in 2014-2015 according to the National Health Survey 2014-15. The rate is greater in women than men. In osteoporosis the bones become porous and fragile, and the risk of fractures increases. In osteopenia the bones have become weaker but are not yet osteoporotic. You don’t see the loss of bone, it is “silently” happening, often without symptoms until a fracture occurs.
Genetic factors largely determine the size and density of your bones, lifestyle factors such as good nutrition, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking and excess alcohol also play a key role. A diet to promote good bone health requires sufficient energy or kilojoules, adequate protein, vitamins and minerals – particularly vitamin D and the mineral calcium. In the growing years, good nutrition helps to build peak bone mass (maximum bone density is reached by around 20 years of age) reducing vulnerability to osteoporosis later in life.
Bones store 99 per cent of our body’s calcium. The calcium in our bones acts as a ‘reservoir’ for maintaining calcium levels in the blood, which is essential for healthy nerve and muscle functioning. Our bones are not stagnant, we are continually re building bone tissue, taking and replacing the calcium stores. With age, however, calcium absorption efficiency declines, which is one of the reasons why seniors need higher amounts of calcium.
Milk and other dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese, are the most readily available dietary sources of calcium. Dairy foods have the additional advantage of being good sources of protein and other micronutrients (such as magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K) that are important for bone and general health. Breakfast time is often a great opportunity to have a serve of dairy, milk or probiotic milk on cereal, a glass of milk, a dollop of yoghurt added to a smoothie, on cereal of with fruit. We should aim for between 3-4 serves of dairy products a day depending on age.
Other food sources of calcium include some green vegetables, such as broccoli, curly kale, and bok choy; canned fish with soft, edible bones (the calcium’s in the bones!) such as sardines and salmon; nuts – especially Brazil nuts and almonds; some fruits such as dried apricots and dried figs; and calcium-set tofu. The calcium from dairy products is more efficiently absorbed.
Vitamin D plays a key role in assisting calcium absorption from food, ensuring the correct renewal and mineralization of bone tissue. Vitamin D is made in our skin from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. People who are house bound are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Food sources of vitamin D are limited, a little found in sardines, mackerel, salmon, egg yolk and some fortified foods (it has been added).
Having adequate dietary protein is also essential for strong bones as well as maintaining muscle mass to reduce the risk of falls. Lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods are excellent sources of animal protein. Dairy foods offer the extra bonus of being a rich source of calcium, and oily fish, of vitamin D.
Good vegetable sources of protein include legumes (e.g. lentils, kidney beans), soya products (e.g. tofu), grains, nuts and seeds. Fruits and vegetables contain a whole array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can have a beneficial effect on bone health.
To look after your bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, keep up your calcium, protein, vitamin D and general vitamin and mineral intake. Our bones are complex and require a range of nutrients regularly. It could be as simple as grabbing a Rokeby Breakfast smoothie after or before training (weight bearing exercise if very good for bone health), or as a snack particularly if you need a protein and energy boost. A homemade mid afternoon smoothie is another bone health bonanza- add some probiotic milk, dollop of yoghurt, handful of nuts, fruit and blend. This provides calcium, protein and a range of minerals. Drink it outside in the sunshine and you will be also getting a dose of UV rays to produce the very important vitamin D.