“A healthy, nutritious diet is one of the cornerstones of ensuring strong, healthy bones at every stage in life.”
– Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes
Professor of Medicine, Tufts University, Boston MA
Our bones are in a constant process of renewal – old or damaged bone is removed and replaced with new bone. In order to carry this out efficiently, the skeleton, like any other organ in the body, requires a continuous supply of nutrients and energy.
Along with exercise, nutrition is crucial for building bone, maintaining bone mass, and slowing down bone loss during adulthood. A balanced healthy diet which includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D will help to slow down bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis-related fractures in both men and women.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body and is a major building block of the skeleton. Ninety-nine percent of all calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth while one percent is circulated in the blood and used for cell function.
The skeleton can act as a reservoir of calcium in the body – calcium can be ‘stolen’ from your bones and teeth to compensate for low calcium in your diet, making you susceptible to developing osteoporosis. A diet rich in calcium protects your bones and helps to maintain your bone mass.
Refer to the table below to find out how much calcium you need per day. Keep in mind that as you age, your body cannot absorb calcium as well as it used to. For this reason, higher calcium intakes are usually recommended for older adults.
|Age||Daily calcium requirement (includes diet and supplements)|
|19 to 50||1000 mg|
|pregnant or lactating women 18+||1000 mg|
Sources of calcium
Milk and other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium. One cup of milk can give you 300 mg of calcium. Dairy foods are also good sources of protein and other nutrients that are important for bone and overall health.
Other foods that can give you calcium include some calcium-fortified soy beverages and orange juices, certain green vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy, whole canned fish with soft, edible bones such as canned salmon and sardines, and meat alternatives such as beans and lentils.
You can calculate your calcium intake using the calcium calculator found on Osteoporosis Canada’s website. If you find that you are not getting enough calcium from your food, here are a few ways you can increase your calcium intake:
- select milk as a beverage when eating out
- use yogurt or tahini as a dip, garnish, spread, or dressing
- make soups with milk instead of water
- add cheese or chickpeas to salads and sandwiches
- have caffe lattes instead of regular coffee
(tips courtesy of Diary Farmers of Canada Ontario)
If you are not able to get enough calcium through your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement. The total calcium that you get from both diet and supplements should not be more than 1200 mg per day for most adults.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health as it helps the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce falls in the elderly, and it may also reduce the risk of other health conditions such as cancers and disorders of the immune system.
Vitamin D requirements
Refer to the table below to find out how much vitamin D you need per day:
|Age||Daily Vitamin D requirement|
|19 to 50 (including pregnant or lactating women)||400 – 1000 IU|
|50+ or younger adults at high risk||800 – 2000 IU|
Sources of vitamin D
Our skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. As little as 10-15 minutes of sunlight exposure may be enough to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D. During the winter months, however, sunlight that reaches northern latitudes above 35º does not contain enough ultraviolet B rays for vitamin D production. Canadians are thus at high risk of vitamin D deficiency and need to ensure they have enough vitamin D intake, especially during the winter months.
There are only a few foods from which we can get vitamin D. These include fish oils (halibut and cod liver oil) and oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and swordfish), chicken liver, eggs, and margarine. However, the amount of vitamin D in these foods is very low and it is impossible to get enough vitamin D through diet. For this reason, Osteoporosis Canada recommends routine vitamin D supplementation all year round.
Multivitamins provide about 400 IUs of vitamin D, and many calcium supplements also contain some vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements can be found in doses of 400 and 1000 IU.