Keeping your bones strong might seem like a goal for later years, when they’ve already become thinner and weaker. But bone health is actually something to consider much sooner.
We reach peak bone density at around the age of 30. After which bone loss speeds up once you reach midlife. For women, it increases dramatically around the time of menopause. This is due to the drop in the hormone oestrogen, which is linked to bone density.
The good news is there are simple ways to keep bones healthy at any age and help prevent osteoporosis (a chronic disease that basically results in weaker bones,making them prone to breaks and fractures).
Calcium is one of the foundations of strong bones. Your recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium changes as you go through life, with women and girls aiming for 1000–1300mg a day. Around three to four serves of dairy each day will help you reach this RDI. These amounts can be easily factored into your diet, even if you are trying to lose weight, as low-fat dairy products are also packed with calcium.
Jean Hailes’ dietitian Anna Waldron says, “A calcium-rich breakfast is a fantastic way to start your day and get you well on your way with your calcium requirements. Have a generous amount of milk or yoghurt on your cereal or porridge, or have some yoghurt with cereal or fruit. Try making pancakes on the weekend and serve with some fruit and yoghurt on top.”
Many other foods also contain calcium (although in smaller amounts), such as soy milk or other alternative milks that have added calcium, canned sardines with their bones, tofu, almonds, spinach and chickpeas.
With a bit of imagination, you can transform a few ingredients into a tasty calcium-rich dish that works for the whole family. A simple lemon, raspberry and yoghurt pudding baked in a mug in the microwave, for instance, can take just a few minutes to prepare and can deliver more than 300mg of calcium. Or a kale, feta and pumpkin pie can give you around 445mg of daily calcium needs, while also delivering a tasty mix of vegetables.
What else do bones need to stay healthy?
Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed. Try to get at least 10 minutes of safe sun exposure each day to top up your levels. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, but salmon and other fatty fish, eggs and margarine provide some, though the amounts are low.
Regular weight bearing exercise also strengthens bones – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity such as walking or playing sport each day. Gentle weight lifting (resistance training) is also great for strengthening bones, increasing flexibility and reducing falls.
If you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium or vitamin D, talk to your doctor. You might be able to take a supplement to help boost your levels.
Jean Hailes psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks says, “Whatever lifestyle changes you might make, for a change to be successful, it’s important that you make specific and achievable goals.”
Some calcium-rich recipes:
Baked ricotta dessert from the Jean Hailes Kitchen
Dairy Australia’s One minute lemon, raspberry and yoghurt mug puddings
Dairy Australia’s Kale, feta and pumpkin pie
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. 1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)