Boning Up on Calcium

You’ve probably heard that 1 in every 2 women and 1 in 8 men will suffer from a bad bone fracture caused by osteoporosis. What can you do, diet wise, to help your bones stay healthy? Here’s the lowdownfrom Liz Applegate, PhD, a nationally known expert on nutritionand fitness, who is a faculty member of the nutrition departmentat the University of California at Davis, and author of Encyclopedia of Sports and Fitness Nutrition (Prima Publishing, December 2002).

1. Be Vigilant About Calcium. Did you know that at least 70 percent of people don’t meet the recommended daily intake of calcium? Make sure you get enough: 1,000 milligrams (mg) if you’re 19 to 50, or 1,200 mg if you’re 51 or older. To do this, take in at least two servings of dairy products every day. Also try calcium-fortified soy milk, orange juice and breakfast cereal and canned salmon with bones.

If you use calcium supplements, don’t take more than 500 milligrams per dose. Why? Your body will not absorb larger doses efficiently. When buying supplements, look for those made from calcium citrate, as it is absorbed better than other forms. If large pills make you gag, look for chewable supplements.

2. Don’t Forget D. To make sure your body can use the calcium you eat, get enough vitamin D. The only major dietary source is milk fortified with vitamin D. If your face and hands are exposed to sunlight for 20 minutes to 2 hours every day, you get enough of this vitamin. However, if you aren’t outside much or it’s during the dreary winter months, you might need more. In those cases, take a supplement (no more than 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance, which is 200 International Units [IU] for 19-to-50-year-olds, 400 IU for 51-to-70-year-olds and 600 IU for adults older than 70).

3. Get C and K, Too. Vitamins C and K are also important players in the formation of healthy bones. Get enough of these bone-building nutrients by eating daily servings of citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, peppers and other produce rich in vitamin C, along with green leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, broccoli and asparagus for vitamin K.

4. Keep Tabs on Protein. Do you eat a very high protein diet? If so, you may be more vulnerable to losing calcium. Eat a medium amount of protein—about 50 to 100 grams daily, depending on your body size and how much you exercise.

5. Ease Up on Alcohol. If you drink too much alcohol, you may increase the risk of bone fractures. Consuming one drink or less per day (women) or two or fewer per day (men) and getting enough calcium is best for bones.

6. Just Say No to Calorie Cutting. Eating a low number of calories can hurt bone health. Being underweight can lead to lower estrogen levels in women, which in turn means that bones lose calcium. Also, a chronically low calorie intake may mean you’re cutting out dairy products. To lose weight safely, increase exercise (particularly weight-bearing exercise, which can help build and retain bone mass) instead of severely restricting calorie intake.