Bones are vital for movement, support and protect various organs of the body, produce blood cells and store minerals. However there is inadequate attention to bone health which may pave way to osteopenia and osteoporosis that increase the risk of fracture due to fragile bones, especially among women. The latter is not uncommon in India. Taking care of bones when still young will help prevent future problems as maximum bone formation occurs during childhood, prime puberty and eventually stops at 30 years.  Diet has an essential impact on bone health. Calcium tops the list along with exercise for bone health. For calcium to be absorbed into your bones we need other nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K, other minerals and hormones. 

Calcium and Vitamin D
Bone development occurs every day of our life constituting protein, phosphorous and calcium. The biggest culprit is the lack of adequate calcium in the diet. The pop star of calcium is undoubtedly milk. A glass of milk (240ml), whether skim, low-fat, or whole has 300 mg calcium.  Dairy products are the best sources of calcium coupled with other symbiotic nutrients like phosphorus, vitamin D and protein. Do not fret if you are not a milk drinker, as there is solace in curd, paneer or cheese. Several fortified foods like oatmeal, cereal, protein bars, and orange juice also offer plenty calcium.

To boost bone health, absorption of calcium and preventing calcium loss is more important. It is surprising kale, spring greens -leafy vegetables like collard greens, bok choy are best bet for higher absorption of calcium. Chinese cabbage, turnip greens, broccoli, spinach follow suit.

Sardines with bones, herring, salmon and other oily fish offer an array of bone-boosting nutrients. They contain calcium & vitamin D and are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in the omega-3s from fish (DHA and EPA), which naturally lowers the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, reduce bone loss. If dairy products, fish, and green leafy vegetables leave you cold, consider eating eggs(yolk) or tofu. Isoflavones are plentiful in soy foods, and appear to have an estrogen-like effect on the body. This may make soy useful in warding off bone disease in menopausal women.

Nuts and seeds (sesame seeds or til) bolsters bone health too. Almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are high in calcium. Walnuts and flaxseeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease excessive bone breakdown. Peanuts and almonds contain potassium, which prevents calcium loss in urine. Nuts also contain protein and other nutrients that play a supportive role in building strong bones.

Salt is a major culprit in depriving the body of calcium. The more salt eaten, the more calcium lost in urine. Low-salt in diet helps to retain more calcium to strengthen bones. Reduce the intake of sodium and increase the intake of potassium through fruits and vegetables to reduce calcium loss and improve their calcium balance.

Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption from kidneys and intestines. It is synthesized naturally in the body when the bare skin is exposed to UV-B rays of sun light, during midday (10 am – 2.00 pm). Usually just 15 -30 minutes of sun a day will get you enough vitamin D. But the body becomes less efficient with age, use of sunscreen and environmental pollution.

Weight-Bearing Exercise
The skeleton needs to be stressed to get stronger.  To get the most out of your bone boosting diet regular weight bearing exercise is imperative. Exercise which uses body weight (calisthenics) or strength training intensifies bones and muscles, increasing bone density and muscle mass. Brisk walking, jogging, and light aerobics, dancing, tennis, bicycling and yoga benefit bones. 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise even 2-3 days a week will do wonders.
Smoking and Alcohol
Nicotine is toxic to bone. Alcohol in moderation is acceptable, but just one or two drinks a week. Violation manifests to bone loss.

Children require 800- 1300 mg calcium each day and adults younger than 50 need 1,000 mg per day, and people over 50 need 1,200 milligrams a day.

Calcium supplements: 
It is recommended to supplement calcium in combination with magnesium and vitamin D3 as it is better absorbed and retained than Vitamin D2. To maximize absorption from calcium supplements, take no more than 500 mg at a given time. However, more calcium isn't always better. Getting too much calcium - 2500 mg increases risk of kidney stones and calcification of arteries.

A diet diverse and abundant in nutrients from a balanced diet, sun exposure for at least 15 minutes for vitamin D and adequate weight bearing exercise weekly strengthen bones.

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