By Britt Smith (nutritionist)
We don’t often think about our bones, not until something goes wrong. But our bones form the foundation for the rest of our body; they give us strength, store certain nutrients, make blood cells, and provide structure for our muscles, tendons and nerves. They serve an important role in our health, so it’s in our best interest to ensure they are strong and have all the necessary vitamins and minerals, every day.
Why is it important to have strong bones?
Strong bones equal better balance, improved posture, protection for your organs, strength and support for your body. This allow you a lifetime of being active and moving without discomfort; being able to dance and run, continue playing sports, preventing injuries, and enjoying life to the full without worrying about being in pain.
What happens if my bones aren’t strong?
A loss of bone density is called osteoporosis, where bones loose calcium, become thin and brittle, which often leads to an increase risk of fractures. Osteoporosis isn’t a natural part of aging; there is plenty you can do to keep your bones strong and healthy.
How does nutrition play a role in bone density?
Calcium is vital for creating strong bones and healthy teeth. If we don’t get enough calcium, we are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Having enough calcium in your diet, plus regular exercise can maintain good bone density.
Calcium requirements change over our different life stages, such as during growing teenage years, and in later life over 50 years.
How can I increase calcium in my diet?
The best source of calcium comes from one of our 5 food groups; the dairy and alternatives group. Some examples of foods that come from this group are milk, cheese, and yoghurt. The recommendations from the Australian Dietary guidelines are 2.5 – 4 serves per day (depending on ages, gender and activity level).
Some examples of 1 serve of dairy:
- 1 cup of milk (250mL)
- A small tub of yoghurt (200g)
- 2 slices of cheese (40g)
Some ways that you can get more of these foods into your diet:
- Topping your muesli, granola or porridge with yoghurt or milk
- Including yoghurt and cheese as snacks
- Having milk in your tea or coffee
- Add ricotta, feta or bocconcini to salads
- Dollop yoghurt on top of curries and stews
- Having ricotta or tzatziki as a dip with veggies
Other non-dairy sources of calcium:
- Calcium fortified soy or nut milks
- Firm tofu
- Brazil nuts
- Unhulled tahini and sesame seeds
- Green leafy veggies (Spinah, Kale, Collards, Bok choy)
- Some fish: Sardines, Salmon, trout (Espcially bones in canned fish)
What about vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays an important role in enabling calcium to be absorbed from food, and the best sources of vitamin D is from food and we can also get it from sun exposure. However, due to our increased amount of time spent indoors, and increase in wearing sunscreen, many people are now deficient.
Here are some great sources of vitamin D from food:
- Herring and Sardines
- Cod liver oil
- Canned tuna
- Egg yolks
Putting it all together:
It’s hard not to worry about all the various things that we need to be aware of with our health, we get bogged down with some news article, or yet another fad diet. What’s important is to take a step back and look at the big picture. As long as you are eating a varied diet, and aware of where we get our nutrients from (hint: It’s not from supplements, fast food, or the exotic “superfoods”). All you need is a little nutrition knowledge, eat a large variety of foods from all 5 food groups, and to stay active and move your body as much as you can.
Here are some high calcium recipe ideas to get you started:
Britt Smith is a Nutritionist, head to her facebook page for more tips and ideas to keep healthy.