Nutrition and Osteoporosis

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‘What should we eat to keep our bones healthy?’

A well balanced diet helps to keep us healthy and our bones are no exception. Whether young or old, building up our peak bone mass or maintaining it, we all need a healthy balanced calcium-rich diet to keep our bones strong and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. 

We can maintain a balanced diet by eating widely from all four major food groups: Fruit and vegetables; Carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and cereals; Milk and dairy products; Protein such as fish, meat, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds. 

The three key bone-healthy nutrients are Calcium, Vitamin D and Protein.

1. Calcium 

With a skeleton comprised almost entirely of calcium, this is one of the key nutrients required by our bones. Good sources of calcium are found in milk and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurts. Non-dairy calcium-rich foods include fish with bones such as whitebait and tinned sardines / salmon, green vegetables such as curly kale, spring greens and broccoli, soya milk fortified with calcium and sesame seeds. Fruit such as dried figs and apricots or oranges are also good calcium sources.

Recommended dietary calcium intake or Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI): 700mgs/ day meets requirements for 97.5% of the adult population (NOS) (accessed 1st Nov 2016 NOS) 

Recent analysis by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) found that of nearly 7000 users of the IOF Calcium Calculator, 89% of respondents weren’t getting enough calcium.

For further details of the analysis or to find out your own calcium intake follow this link: online calcium calculator.

2. Vitamin D

Essential for the absorption of calcium from our food, vitamin D is another key nutrient required for healthy bones. Our main source of vitamin D is from sunlight exposure which causes its manufacture in our skin. We need to spend 10 minutes outside, without sunscreen, a couple of times a day between May and September and between 11am and 3 pm - take care not to burn!

Dietary sources make up just a small amount of our vitamin D intake but they are still important to include in our diet: Sources include: oily fish, eggs, fortified margarines, cereals and dairy alternatives.

These sources should be sufficient for most healthy adults however supplementation with 10mcgs/day of vitamin D is recommended in some population groups at higher risk of deficiency such as the housebound especially the frail elderly.  Follow the link to the SIGN guidelines below for further details of population groups at risk.  

3. Protein 

This key bone-healthy nutrient is required to maintain bone structure and a sufficient intake is possible by maintaining a healthy well balanced diet.


Written by Claire Pearson

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