Photography by: Pornchai Mittongtare
The better-bones diet
AVOID CALCIUM OVERLOAD Official recommendations encourage women between the ages of 19 and 50 to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and women older than 50 to get 1,200 milligrams. Lanou suggests lowering that to 500 to 800 milligrams, preferably from dairy-free food sources (see next item). Lanou explains that a higher calcium intake is unnecessary and, if it comes from supplemental sources, may cause constipation and negatively impact the absorption, production or metabolism of other nutrients.
A large Swedish study reported in 2011 in the British Medical Journal found that for the average woman, 700 to 800 milligrams of calcium a day is the range beyond which it appears to stop increasing bone density. Additional recent studies have also linked taking 1,000 milligrams or more of calcium supplements daily with an increased cardiovascular disease risk in women.
DON’T DEPEND ON DAIRY Dairy foods— cheese and ice cream in particular—are highly acidic, but the body prefers a slightly alkaline pH; to neutralize the acidity from dairy, your body pulls calcium from the bones. Lanou points out that hip fracture rates are highest where calcium intake from dairy foods is highest, including in the U.S. and Northern European countries. Better calcium sources include leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, beans and sesame seeds.
“If you were building a wall, calcium is the bricks, but vitamin D, magnesium and more than a dozen other nutrients are the mortar,” Lanou says. An ounce of almonds, a cup of raw kale and a can of salmon (with bones), eaten throughout the day to maximize absorption, will give you 800 milligrams of calcium along with those and other bone-building nutrients.
PILE ON THE PRODUCE Cultivating a bonefriendly diet also means limiting acidic meat, sugar, sodas, alcohol and packaged products while eating more alkaline foods like fruits and vegetables. Shoot for six to nine daily servings. Calcium is best absorbed from Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and turnip and mustard greens (51 percent to 64 percent absorption), then supplements and dairy foods (around 30 percent each). Besides keeping your blood alkaline, you’ll reap extra benefits from the other bonebuilding compounds in these foods, including magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin K.
SELECT THE RIGHT SOY According to Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., soy is probably more beneficial for building bone and/or slowing bone loss than it is for treating osteoporosis. She discourages taking soy supplements because they may impact cancer risk for women with certain tumor receptors and they don’t contain the other nutrients and antioxidants found in whole soy foods. Instead, Reardon advises choosing organic, non-GMO soy in the form of 1⁄4 cup of dry roasted edamame or 3 ounces of tempeh daily; these are two of the least processed options and thus retain more of the health benefits soy has to offer.
STEER CLEAR OF SALT Sodium increases calcium loss in urine; cap your intake at 2,300 milligrams a day (the equivalent of 1 teaspoon). If you’re older than 51 or have high blood pressure, stick to less than 1,500 milligrams a day.
DIG THOSE DRIED PLUMS A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2011 found that women who ate about eight to 10 prunes a day had significantly higher bone mineral density in their forearms and spines compared with those who ate dried apples. Prunes provide boron and potassium, two elements that help suppress the breakdown of bone.
CAP THE CAFFEINE Coffee is acidic and caffeine impairs calcium absorption, so limit your intake to no more than 2 cups per day. Even better, switch to green tea: Reardon notes that it contains flavonoids, compounds that help inhibit bone breakdown.