The entire human skeleton is thought to be replaced every 10 years through the process of bone dissolving and re-modelling. But when the bone build-up lags behind the process of bone breakdown, you’re likely to suffer from lowered bone mass or osteoporosis. For keeping pace with bone breakdown you should supply your body with two essential minerals: calcium and vitamin D. The daily recommendation for calcium in adults (upto age 50) is 1,000 milligrams and vitamin D requirement is 200 international units (IUs). Your bones form an important framework for providing structure to your body and protecting your internal organs from direct trauma. So, it is better that you start taking good care of them by including these foods in your diet.
Green vegetables: Green and leafy vegetables like spinach (palak), spring onions, fenugreek (methi), cabbage (gobi), broccoli are the best sources of calcium for people who do not consume much of dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. Just one katori of cooked leafy vegetables like spinach can give you about 25 percent of your daily calcium requirement. Spinach is also rich in vitamin K which helps in boosting the bone mineral density.
Oranges: Although oranges are mainly consumed for their richness in vitamin C, they can also help to build healthier bones. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid plays an important role in the absorption of calcium.
Nuts: Nuts like almonds and groundnut have higher amount of potassium, which plays a role in preventing loss of calcium through urine. Walnuts are known for their richness in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fats are crucial for slowing down the rate of bone loss and enhancing the process of bone formation. Nuts are also fair sources of protein and some other nutrients that contribute to stronger bones.
Prunes: A handful of prunes or dried plums is a must have for women who suffer from osteoporosis. They contain a fiber called inulin, which helps in calcium absorption in the body and bone strengthening. They also help in curing arthritis.
Bananas: Bananas are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. All three nutrients help in bone strengthening.
Milk: That now-classic milk mustache ad is spot on. Just one glass of milk a day has 30% of the calcium needs for the under-50 set. Add a few more ounces if you're over 50. The jury is still out about whether skim and fat-free versions are the best choices so go ahead and have whole milk if it tastes better to you. You'll be more likely to down the recommended amount and you'll only be spending about 150 to 175 calories depending on how many ounces you drink. Look for brands with vitamin D added for even more bone-boosting benefits.
The Yogurt Advantage: Surprise! This delicious dairy product that dates back at least to 2000 B.C. actually has more calcium than milk. An 8-ounce serving gives you over 40% of your daily requirement of the bone-building nutrient. Bonus: You'll also be consuming health-promoting probiotics. A warning, however: Greek yogurt is not fortified with vitamin D. Of course that may not be a problem if you're eating other sources of vitamin D and getting some sunshine for a few hours a day several times a week. Why not top your yogurt with fruit to add even more good nutrition to your treat?
From savory bleu to sharp cheddar to creamy brie and camembert, cheese is a satisfying nosh on it's own or a palate-pleasing addition to any dish. Portion control is key, however, because calorie and fat counts are typically quite high. Fortunately, a mere 1.5 ounces of cheddar gives you more than 30% of your daily calcium needs, and other cheeses have similar values. Most cheeses also have small amounts of vitamin D.
Scream for Ice Cream: The grandchildren aren't the only ones who will benefit from the calcium in America's favorite frozen dessert! Why not join the kids every now and then for a cone in your favorite flavor? Or just have a scoop in a dish to avoid the carbs and calories in the cone. Also, consider opting for light versions that are lower in calories and fat.
Soy Milk: If you're lactose intolerant or simply don't want to eat dairy products, a good alternative is calcium-enriched soy milk. Half a cup has more calcium than regular milk. Not only that, but recent research shows that plant-based chemicals called isoflavones in the soy may increase bone density.
Cereal: Another fortified product that can help you get enough calcium is cereal. Several brands are available including Kashi U Black Currants and Walnuts, Total Whole Grain, and Wheaties. Add milk and you've got a bowlful of calcium plus some vitamin D. This choice is an obvious one for breakfast but we know single Boomers who like to have cereal as a simple, no-cook supper as well!
Orange Juice: Try Tropicana's Calcium + Vitamin D, a brand of OJ that gives you both of the bone-building nutrients right along with your vitamin C. Also, studies have shown that the ascorbic acid in OJ may help with calcium absorption. Fresh-squeezed, of course, isn't fortified so you're better off skipping the juicer and buying a carton instead.
Nothing Nutty About This Choice
Peanuts and almonds are packed with potassium, which inhibits the loss of calcium in urine. Walnuts are rich in alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that slows down bone loss and helps bone formation to continue. Nuts are also good sources of protein and other nutrients that contribute to keeping bones strong.
The Seeds of Good Bone Health
All seeds are good sources of magnesium, a key nutrient in bone health. Pumpkin seeds are the top contender but flax seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are all good options and they give you lots of vitamins in the bargain. Sprinkle seeds on salads, roast them for snacks, or add them to recipes for a flavorful way to help keep your bones in good condition.
Calcium Rich Veggies
Broccoli: Veggies can't give you all the calcium you need, but broccoli does a great job of adding to your cache of both calcium and vitamin D along with vitamin C, fiber, and cancer-fighting nutrients. Raw or steamed, broccoli does your bones good and keeps you healthy in other ways as well.
Leafy Greens: Dark, leafy greens are arguably the best non-dairy sources of calcium. Try kale, arugula, watercress, and collard greens either cooked or in your salads. However, while spinach gives you iron and other nutrients, it contains oxalic acid. This makes its calcium content unavailable for absorption by the human body.
Dr. Sanjiv Kumar
Asst. Director (Ayurveda)
National Medicinal Plant Board, Ayush Bhawan, New Delhi.