Health Advice



Nutrition to support bone health

By Sharon Lehrman, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter on

Published in Health & Fitness

The human body is comprised of bone, muscle and fat in proportions that are unique to each of us. Bone makes up about 15% of our overall mass and is a dynamic living tissue, removing old bone cells and rebuilding it with new ones. As we age, this becomes less efficient with old bone being removed faster than it can be replaced.

Osteoporosis (a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile) affects 10 million Americans whereas 44 million have osteopenia (low bone density). One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will experience a fracture in their lifetime from osteoporosis. A woman’s risk of osteoporosis equals her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. And a man is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than he is to get prostate cancer. With our aging population, it’s estimated that by 2025 osteoporosis will be responsible for three million fractures annually at a cost of $25.3 billion.

Professor John A. Kanis, past president of the International Osteoporosis Foundation states “the progressive bone loss that occurs with osteoporosis may be invisible and painless, but this ‘silent’ disease results in fractures which cause pain, disability, and ultimately loss of independence or premature death. We therefore urge people with osteoporosis to protect themselves against fractures by adopting a bone-healthy lifestyle in tandem with appropriate medical treatment.”

Food and your bones

Along with regular weight-bearing and strength training activities, the foods you eat play a large role in preventing and managing bone loss.



Calcium is a critical mineral contained in our bones. The National Academy of Sciences recommends women ages 19-50 and men ages 19-70 consume 1000 milligrams daily. Women older than 50 and men older than 70 are advised to consume 1200 milligrams. daily. This includes the total amount from both food and supplements.

A “food first” approach is typically advised versus an over-reliance on dietary supplements to help meet nutrient recommendations. You can use the chart below to estimate your daily calcium intake from your diet. After reviewing your answers, you may decide to increase your dietary intake or make up any shortfall with a calcium supplement. A list of calcium-rich foods is also included.

Since the body may not be equipped to absorb and process large doses of calcium at one time, it is advisable to take no more than 500 milligrams at one time, and less may be even better. You may want to take your calcium supplements in divided doses throughout the day. Calcium carbonate, the most common calcium supplement, should be taken with food. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food.

Calcium supplements can interfere with the absorption of certain medications; talk with your pharmacist about the best timing for your calcium supplements.


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