DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis and my health care team suggested that I eat a bone-healthy diet to prevent more issues and maintain strong bones as I age. What is osteoporosis, and how can I maintain a bone-healthy diet?
ANSWER: Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones to thin and lose their strength. When bones become weaker, sudden fractures can occur, even with minimal trauma. A calcium-rich diet is important to maintain optimal bone health and prevent osteoporosis. So, too, is vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium to deposit it into bones. The amount of calcium and vitamin D needed to optimize bone health increases with age.
Bones need nutrients so they can grow and maintain that growth. A bone-healthy diet can be a good strategy to prevent ongoing bone loss. This diet should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and optimal calcium and vitamin D levels.
Here are five steps to eating well for strong bones:
1. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Studies show that eating more vegetables and fruits will improve bone health. These foods are generally lower in calories and fat, and they are high in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytochemicals, which are substances that can protect against various diseases, including osteoporosis.
Aim to eat four or more servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit each day. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of magnesium and potassium, as well as vitamins C, K and A. All play a role in maintaining bone health.
Also, eat four servings of grains daily. Choose whole grains when possible because whole grains contain more nutrients, especially magnesium and fiber, than refined grains do.
2. Choose healthy sources of protein and fat.
Protein is important for bone health because it's a major component of bone tissue and plays a role in maintaining bone. The best choices include plant proteins, such as beans and nuts, as well as fish, skinless poultry and lean cuts of meat.