Women, Calcium and Osteoporosis

by Marsha Hudnall

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Preventing osteoporosis in older women | Use of higher calcium rich diet Keeping up with Calcium

So you’ve been trying to eat healthy for some time now. And getting enough calcium is something you know you should do. After all, women run four times the risk men do for osteoporosis, a disease that can set you up for brittle, broken bones later in life. And currently, over 20 million of us suffer from the problem. So how are you doing in getting what you need?

If you’re like most women, you’re still falling short on this critical nutrient. Studies show on average American women get only about half the recommended amount. We’re supposed to be getting 1000 to 1200 milligrams (mg) a day; we average around 600 mg.

And that’s why, in survey results released this week, nearly 98% of the nation’s leading nutrition experts ranked calcium intake as one of the top health issues for women today.

But that’s not the whole story. Moving your body regularly is also critical. So here’s some easy-to-follow advice from Green Mountain at Fox Run to help put you solidly on the path to healthy bones and feeling great throughout life.

 

How to Up Your Calcium Intake, and Keep It Up

  • Eat what you like. Remember, the #1 reason people choose the foods they do is taste. If it doesn’t taste good, they won’t eat it regularly. So to consistently get enough calcium, look for sources that you enjoy.
    • At Green Mountain, we encourage you to savor at least three servings of dairy foods every day, fat-free or 1% milk or yogurt, regular and reduced fat cheeses (as long as they’re tasty), soups made with milk, puddings made with milk, even ice cream on occasion.
    • Why dairy foods? Because they are not only great sources of calcium, dairy foods also contain lactose, which helps you absorb calcium better. Plus, milk is fortified with vitamin D, another nutrient important for healthy bones.
    • Other excellent non-dairy sources of calcium are fortified orange or grapefruit juice, and fortified ready-to-eat cereal (check the label to find the calcium fortified varieties and how much they contain).
  • Expand your taste horizons. Okay, we can’t avoid it. We have to advise you to eat more vegetables, especially the dark-green leafy ones like spinach, kale, turnip greens. Not for calcium*, however. Instead, it’s the vitamin K in dark-green leafies that may be key. A recent study at the USDA Nutrition Research Center on Aging showed that women who ate more dark-green leafy vegetables had fewer hip fractures than those who consumed less of these foods.
  • Eat regularly. If you’ve been to Green Mountain already, you’ll recognize this piece of advice! It’s key to helping yourself eat well consistently. Enjoy a mix of grains/starchy vegetables, protein foods and fruits &/or vegetables at most meals, and at snacks at which you are particularly hungry. And don’t go too long between meals. That way, you won’t get too hungry, which can lead to overeating. You’ll also find yourself less drawn to richer foods. By eating this way, you’ll find it easier to stop yo-yo dieting; the more you yo-yo diet, the more bone you may lose.

 

Laying It Down

Getting enough calcium into your body is the first step. The next is getting it into your bones. And that means physical activity. What kind? While you may have heard that weight-bearing exercise is key, maybe it’s reassuring to reinforce that there are more choices here than lifting weights.

Just walking regularly helps your body lay down calcium in bones, thereby helping to preserve or increase bone density. And that makes for stronger bones. What’s more, regular physical activity improves muscle strength, balance, coordination and flexibility, all of which can help prevent falls and fractures.

Already Have Osteoporosis?

How to reverse osteoporosis is the subject of plenty of studies right now. Researchers believe getting plenty of calcium can help, along with plenty of weight-bearing activity.

Here’s a new type of activity that can be fun and effective: A pilot study at the University of California showed that working with resistive balls (a form of isometric exercise) just 10 minutes a day for two months helped women who had signs of osteoporosis significantly strengthen their bones. While this is only one small study, it supports what we already know and encourage at Green Mountain: Regular weight bearing exercise such as walking, biking, or resistance training will help you stay healthy for life!

 

*Actually, while calcium-containing plant foods like some vegetables, fruits and tofu can contribute to calcium intake, you generally have to eat more than you would want to get enough, such as 7 cups of broccoli to get the same amount of calcium in a cup of milk! Milk contains about 300 mg calcium per cup; broccoli only about 45 mg.

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