Using Nutrition to Keep Our Bones Healthy as We Get Older

September 03, 2018

Changes in bone health are pretty obvious among the senior population. As mass, or density, decreases, bones become more fragile and might fracture more easily. Among other things, the spine shortens, which often leads to a reduction in height. And even though a decline in bone health isn’t gender-specific, it’s more prevalent in women after menopause.

Although changes in bone health are inevitable, it is possible to reduce the severity of the problems associated with them. One of the best ways to nurture our bones is to eat the foods known to benefit them the most.

Nutrition for Healthy Bones

For senior men and women, a well-balanced diet containing plenty of calcium – an essential mineral – is ideal. A 2015 Harvard University Medical School article (updated in 2017) recommends 500 to 700 milligrams a day of calcium and 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D. “At that rate,” the article said, “you can probably get all or most of your calcium from food, especially if you have a serving or two of dairy products daily. If you can’t tolerate dairy, you should still be able to get 300 milligrams a day in your diet and can take a low-dose calcium supplement to make up the rest.”

Foods That Are Good for Your Bones

One of the good things about calcium is how prevalent it is in many foods. Following are 25 foods (according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation) that are excellent sources of the chemical element so important for the health of our bones.

Vegetables

Frozen collard greens; broccoli rabe; cooked broccoli; frozen kale; green, boiled soybeans; cooked, boiled bok choy; 8 ounces each, 60 to 360 milligrams of calcium (estimated)

Fruit

1 orange (55 milligrams), 2 figs (65 milligrams)

Seafood

Canned sardines with bones, canned salmon with bones, canned shrimp, 3 ounces each, 125 to 325 milligrams

Dairy

  • Milk (skim, low-fat or whole), 8 ounces, 300 milligrams
  • Plain, low-fat yogurt, low-fat yogurt with fruit, Greek yogurt, 6 ounces each, 200 to 310 milligrams
  • Ricotta, part-skim; feta cheese; and cottage cheese, 4 ounces each, 125 to 335 milligrams
  • Mozzarella, cheddar and American cheese, 1 ounce each, 195 to 210 milligrams

Fortified Food

  • Fortified cereal, 8 ounces, 100 to 1,000 milligrams
  • Fortified almond milk, rice milk or soy milk, 8 ounces, 300 milligrams
  • Tofu prepared with calcium and orange juice fortified with calcium, 4 ounces each, 150 to 205 milligrams

Don’t Forget Vitamin D

Made in the skin through exposure to sunlight, Vitamin D also plays a role in keeping bones healthy. Determining the amount that most people need is tricky, though. Wearing sunscreen reduces sunlight exposure and Vitamin D production. People with darker skin make less of it than those with lighter skin, and everyone produces less Vitamin D with age. Even though it’s long been added to milk and other foods, most people probably need to take a capsule containing 8,00 to 1,000 international units daily.

Active Seniors, Good Diets, Healthy Bones

The most active residents in a senior living community likely have two things in common: superior eating habits and sturdy bones. If you want to boost your chances for optimal bone health as you age, look into the health-and-fitness amenities offered at active senior communities. You might be surprised at how lively today’s assisted living communities are.

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