Bone health begins at a young age. A woman acquires about 85 to 90 percent of her bone mass during childhood and adolescence. By about age 20, bone building is complete but bone-mass continues to increase until the early thirties. Bones become stronger and more dense as more calcium becomes part of the bone matrix. If there is not enough calcium deposited in bones during childhood, they may become weak later in life, leading to bone disease such as osteoporosis. Fragile bones easily fracture or break, especially in the hip, spine and wrist.
Genetics and lifestyle contribute to healthy bones. If healthy, strong bones run in your family, chances are you will have them, too. Good nutrition is the key to building and keeping bones strong for life. Calcium and vitamin D are the major nutrients for making bones hard and healthy.
Healthy Bones and Calcium
It is important to consume enough calcium every day. Women need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day for healthy bones. After age 50, a woman’s calcium needs jump to 1,200 milligrams a day.
Good sources of calcium include fat-free or low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, tofu made with calcium sulfate, sardines and fortified cereals and juices. Women need at least three servings a day of calcium-rich foods. A serving of calcium is equivalent to:
- 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free milk
- 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- 1 ounce low-fat or fat-free cheese
- 1½ cups cooked edamame (soybeans)
- 1 cup calcium-fortified juice
- 3 ounces canned sardines, with bones.
Reading Food Labels for Calcium
Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels to find good sources of calcium.
If a label reads:
- 30% RDI of calcium = 300 milligrams
- 20% RDI of calcium = 200 milligrams
- 10% RDI of calcium = 100 milligrams
The Role of Vitamin D
As women age, their bodies do not absorb calcium as well. Vitamin D helps bones absorb calcium. There are three ways to get vitamin D: sunlight (ten to 15 minutes outside per day is sufficient for most people), food and supplements.
Vitamin D is only found in a few foods. Sources include fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna, egg yolks, fortified milk, soymilk and some brands of orange juice and cereal. Women who do not consume enough vitamin D from foods need to take a vitamin D supplement each day.
For women younger than 50, the daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 400 to 800 IU; this amount goes up for women older than 50 to 800 to 1,000 IU a day.
Five Ways to Keep Bones Strong
You can keep your bones strong for life. Start by following these key tips:
- Consume enough calcium and vitamin D every day with food or a combination of food and supplements
- Participate in regular weight-bearing/strength training activities
- Avoid smoking and excess alcohol intake
- Talk with your health care provider about bone health
Have a bone density test if you’re over 50.