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Eating for Bone Strength

runner stretchingBone is a complex and nutritionally-influenced body tissue. Food is one of the most consistent and malleable sources of instructions we give to our bodies, so it’s essential to be conscious about what we are telling our bodies. We will discuss the intersection between bone health and nutrition below.

Firstly, it’s important to understand how our bone tissue is formed. Newborns have about 300 bones at birth, and these bones grow and fuse with other bony structures throughout the first years of life to produce the 206 bones in adults. This illustrates the modular nature of bony tissue as a natural process of human growth without regard to diet. Zooming out, our bones are capable of bony regeneration. In fact, our bones completely regenerate about every 10 years. This means that the new skeleton that develops in place of your current bones is highly impressionable, especially by the diet.

Nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and protein are known to improve bone health, but what does it really mean to eat for healthy bones? Knowing what to include in your diet is just as important as knowing what to avoid.

Calcium is a mineral that greatly influences bone mass and your body’s need for calcium changes throughout the lifespan. Eating calcium-rich foods is important but it’s also important to consider the bioavailability of calcium in the food source. For example, dairy products contain more calcium per serving than green leafy vegetables. However, calcium is more bioavailable in green leafy vegetables meaning our bodies are able to absorb more of the calcium within the food.

Therefore, green leafy vegetables are a better source of calcium overall than dairy products. Other great sources of calcium include lactose, yogurt, tofu, and beans.

Vitamin D is another important component of bone health. Few foods have adequate sources of vitamin D, so exposure to sunlight is our primary source outside of supplementation. Vitamin D is a hormone that is converted to calcitriol to allow for the absorption of calcium. In the absence of vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium efficiently, creating a calcium deficiency. Because the body demands calcium to function, the body will begin to strip the bones of their calcium stores. This bone demineralization can lead to the development of osteopenia and/or osteoporosis.

Magnesium is a crucial structural component for lots of different kinds of body tissue, including bone. Additionally, magnesium allows for the transportation of calcium across cell membranes. Because of their close functional relationship, calcium and magnesium are often supplemented together in a 2:1 ratio. Generally, high-fiber foods contain a good amount of magnesium. This includes avocados, leafy greens, whole grains, and dried figs. Proteins such as halibut and chicken are also good sources of magnesium.


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