Published Feb 9, 2021
When we think about eating for our health, we might immediately think of eating to keep our hearts healthy, or our brains or immune system. But we might not think of our bone health. After all, our bones are made of strong stuff, we don’t really need to think about them, right?
Actually, we do, and it’s crucial to eat for bone health in our younger years to help prevent weak bones or even osteoporosis when we’re older.
Osteoporosis is a painful condition that can impact everyday life. In a healthy individual, the bones are strong and dense. But in someone with osteoporosis they develop weak, brittle bones where the bones lose tissue. Over time, bones then start to resemble a sponge with numerous holes running through them. The bones become weak and can easily break. If this happens, it may be difficult for the bone to heal and become strong again.
A deficiency in calcium or vitamin D can cause osteoporosis as can a hormonal imbalance such as when a woman goes through the menopause. In fact, osteoporosis is common in post-menopausal women after their levels of a hormone called oestrogen naturally decline.
It’s for this reason that it’s important for women to think about bone health from a young age. Teen health is of particular importance as it’s during these young years that women are building layers of bone that will see them through their older years.
The importance of diet
There are so many health benefits to eating a healthy diet – weight management being the one we think of the most. But making sure we eat for bone health is one we don’t often think about, especially when we’re young. It might only occur to us when we’re older and it’s too late.
Calcium and vitamin D are crucial for bone health. From our teenage years, we need around 700mg of calcium a day, which is easy enough if we eat the right foods. Green, leafy vegetables, low fat dairy products, tofu and dried fruits are all good sources.
Calcium helps to build bone, but our body cannot absorb it if we don’t have enough vitamin D. Vitamin D rich foods include fortified cereals and spreads, egg yolks and oily fish that have edible bones, such as sardines and mackerel. However, we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight hitting our skin. During the winter months, it’s recommended that we tale a daily vitamin D supplement to ensure we’re getting enough.
The importance of exercise
Active living is also crucial for bone health and must be considered from a young age. The best exercise for bone health is a combination of weight bearing and resistance exercises.
Weight bearing exercise involves doing exercise whilst lifting weights, such as weight training. Resistance exercise involves using our own body weight, or a machine to exercise against. Squats and lunges are a good example, as is using a cross training machine. Squats and lunges whilst holding weights are great exercises for bone strength.
These kinds of exercises help to strengthen the muscles, which in turn helps to strengthen the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones, strengthening the bones.
Also, the stronger we are, particularly in the core area, the less chance we have of being unstable enough to fall over and risk fracturing our bones. This is of particular importance the older we get.
However, some young girls train so much that their reserves of calcium and vitamin D drop, which can lead to bone loss. Missed or irregular periods are a sign of over training which can lead to a drop in oestrogen (which also happens during the menopause). Decreased oestrogen levels can put a woman at risk of developing osteoporosis at any age. So it’s important to note that extreme exercise, in a quest for healthy, active living, can have a downside.
Like many health matters, early intervention will help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis later in life. So act now for yourself or look after your teen’s health for an active and enjoyable life later on.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.