Preventing Osteoporosis: Go Beyond Milk

Build stronger bones with these healthy tips.

Drink your milk! Surely you remember your mother admonishing you with those words when you were a kid. And she was absolutely right: Kids who drink plenty of milk (or get plenty of calcium from other sources) grow up to have less risk of osteoporosis, the disease that causes bones to become thin and brittle.

It appears that not many of us listened very well to Mom; annually, osteoporosis accounts for about 700,000 spine fractures, 300,000 hip fractures, about 250,000 wrist fractures, and 300,000 fractures at other sites. One out of two women over 50 and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point.

Even if you’re not a kid anymore, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself. From upping your calcium intake to getting the right exercise, here are the 28 best ways to protect your 206 bones. Pay special attention to this advice if you are over age 50, have a family history of osteoporosis, or are a woman who has gone through menopause, because your bones may be more vulnerable.

1. Add almonds to everything. They’re packed with bone-strengthening calcium. Just an ounce, about a handful, of the sweet nuts provides 70 mg calcium. Try them toasted and sprinkled over salad or yogurt, ground and mixed into meat or turkey for meat loaf or meatballs, used in place of pine nuts for homemade pesto, or as a topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt.

2. Drain a can of sardines, mash the fish with a tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, add some salt and pepper, and spread over whole wheat crackers. Another packed-with-calcium food, sardines (the kind with the bones) make a great substitute for tuna. Pair this snack with a glass of milk and your bones have got it made!

3. Stash calcium supplements everywhere. If you’re like most people, between the vitamins, supplements, and medications you may be taking every day, a calcium supplement — best taken twice a day — is apt to be forgotten. So stash them all over the place. Put a bottle in the glove compartment of your car. Keep one on your desk at work. Slip a roll of Tums (a great source of calcium) in your purse or pocket. Put a bottle in full view on your kitchen counter. Calcium is best absorbed in two doses of 500 or 600 mg taken at least three hours apart. Choose a brand that has vitamin D, too, which your body needs in order to use the calcium.

4. Drink one cup of tea a day. That’s all it took in a study of 1,256 women ages 65-76 to increase their bone density 5 percent. That translates to a 10-20 percent reduction in fracture risk! Another study found that among more than 1,000 Chinese men and women, those who regularly drank tea (usually green tea) had denser bones than those who didn’t.

5. Make two glasses of water a day mineral water. Mineral water contains calcium, and a study published in Osteoporosis International in 2000 found that your body absorbs the mineral just as well from water as it does from milk. Make sure the water is labeled “mineral water,” not “spring water.”

6. Do 12-16 squats every day just before you get into bed. Squats are particularly beneficial for your hips, which are especially prone to fracture. Pretend you’re about to sit in a chair, only there’s no chair behind you. As you “sit,” try to lower yourself enough so that your thighs are parallel or nearly parallel to the floor, but don’t let your knees extend beyond your toes.

7. Jump rope for 10 minutes every day. It’s one of the best all-around exercises for building bone. You can even find jump ropes that measure not only the number of jumps you complete, but how many calories you burn. Be careful when you start, though. This exercise requires coordination, and if your bones already happen to be thin, the last thing you want to do is fall.

8. Turn your face up to the sun every day when you walk to and from your car. Aim for about 15 minutes a day of sun exposure, without sunscreen. That’s how much your body needs to make vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” important to bone health. And exposure to sunlight enhances mood because sunlight affects levels of the hormone melatonin. Too little sun can result in a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Studies find that women who are prone to depression are also more likely to have lower bone density.

9. Try some coleslaw or stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner once a week. Cabbage is rich in vitamin K, a vitamin that helps turn on a bone-building protein called osteocalcin.

10. Ride your bike off-road this weekend. A study published in the journal Bone found that cyclists who spent part of their time off-road had above-average bone density, while those who stuck to the streets had slightly below-average bone density. They speculate that the bouncing you do over rough terrain helps stimulate bone growth.

11. Roast a butternut squash tonight. Butternut squash is high in calcium (about 10 percent of the daily value in a one-cup serving). Slice open, scoop out the seeds, then spray the top with butterless cooking spray and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roast until soft, about 45-60 minutes, and scoop out the flesh. Voilà! Osteoporosis fighter in a veggie.

12. Order your pizza topped with sardines and spinach. Not only is it delicious (come on, give it a try), but you’ll get a ton of bone-protecting calcium in every bite.

13. Pop four dried figs for a midafternoon snack. Dried figs are a great source of calcium. Sprinkle a cup of diced figs over your yogurt, and you’ll meet more than half your daily calcium needs.

14. Sip water or iced tea instead of soda. A study out of Tufts University in Boston found that women who drank at least one 12-ounce cola every day for four years had up to 5 percent lower bone mineral density than women who drank fewer than one a week. All the women were drinking the same amount of milk, so researchers think the phosphoric acid in soda affects the body’s absorption of calcium.

15. Figure out how much sodium you’re consuming a day to see if you need more calcium. If you’re at or below 2,100 milligrams of sodium (slightly less than the recommended limit) you’re probably okay with about 1,200 mg calcium a day. But if you’re getting more sodium than that — and most Americans do — increase your calcium intake. An Australian study found that the more sodium 124 postmenopausal women urinated (an indication of how much they took in) the more bone they lost in their hips (where their bone density was measured). You don’t have to analyze your
pee; just take a day and pay attention to all the processed foods you eat (where most sodium is found). Add up the milligrams to get a sense of where you are, sodium-wise. By the way, if you’re using the saltshaker, one teaspoon contains 2,000 mg sodium.

16. Take the right kind of calcium at the right time. Calcium citrate, for instance, is absorbed more easily on an empty stomach, so take it before meals. Calcium carbonate, the cheapest and most common type of supplement, is absorbed best when taken with food, particularly acidic foods such as citrus juice or fruit.

17. Hang room-darkening shades in your bedroom. You’ll sleep much better without ambient light, and sleep is important for bone. Much of bone remodeling, in which old bone is replaced by new, occurs at night during sleep. If you’re not sleeping enough, just when do you think your body is going to have the time to perform this valuable job?

18. Walk for 30 minutes a day. Most women lose 3-6 percent of their bone mass every year during the five years before and after menopause. But women who regularly walked (about 7.5 miles a week) took four to seven years longer to lose the same amount of bone as women who didn’t walk at all. Walking briskly, you should be able to cover two miles in 30 minutes; walk for 30 minutes just four days a week and you’ll get the 7.5 miles in. Add an extra day, though, just for good measure!

19. Start a vegetable and flower garden this spring. Researchers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville found yard work (and weight training) were highly associated with reducing the risk for osteoporosis in 3,310 women ages 50 and older. Turns out that pushing a lawn mower, thrusting a shovel into the ground, lifting heavy wheelbarrows filled with mulch, raking, leaning, carrying, and pulling weeds are all great weight-bearing exercises. So which would you rather do? Lift weights in some stinky gym, or dig in the dirt to plant and harvest your own ruby-red tomatoes?

20. Add nonfat powdered milk to soups, casseroles, baked goods and drinks. It’s an easy, unobtrusive way to sneak more calcium into your diet, particularly if you don’t like drinking milk. Here’s a great recipe that does just that:

Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 medium ripe banana
1/3 cup fat-free powdered milk
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons Smart Balance spread
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs (organic omega-3)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli)

1. Preheat oven to 360°F. Grind the almonds in a coffee grinder to a fine powder.

2. Place first five ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fluffy and creamy. Add eggs and beat again until smooth. The dough will seem liquid and not compact, but that’s okay — that’s how it’s supposed to be.

3. Add in rolled oats, flour, ground almonds, and baking soda and beat until well blended. Mix in chocolate chips. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes.

21. Learn to cook with yogurt. Many cultures, particularly Indian, use yogurt every day in cooking. Here are two great recipes that take advantage of this flexible food that’s also high in calcium:

Crispy Multigrain Chicken Tenders

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup fat-free plain yogurt
3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups multigrain cereal (Nature’s Path Heritage)
1/4 cup oat bran flour
Quick spray of olive oil

1. Wash and pat dry the chicken; cut into one-inch chunks.

2. Mix yogurt, orange juice concentrate, garlic powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add chunks of chicken to the yogurt mixture, coating each piece thoroughly, and store in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (you can make this the night before — it will be even more tender).

3. Place multigrain cereal with oat bran flour and a pinch of salt in another bowl and crumble up with your fingers (you can also grind the cereal in a food processor if you prefer a finer texture).

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Take the yogurt-coated chicken out of the fridge. Dip each piece in the cereal mixture and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper lightly sprayed with olive oil. Discard extra cereal and extra yogurt.

5. Give a quick olive oil spray over all the pieces. Bake in preheated oven until golden and crisp, 10-12 minutes.

Serves 4

Baked Chicken in Creamy Mustard Sauce

If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, this makes a great sandwich for the next day’s lunch.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/4 cup fat-free buttermilk
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Wash and pat dry the chicken. Mix the Dijon mustard with the yogurt and coat the chicken with it. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (this step can be done the night before).

3. When ready to bake, arrange the chicken in a shallow baking dish that can also go on top of the stove. Mix 1/4 cup vermouth with the chicken broth in a measuring cup and pour around the chicken. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, turning the chicken over once, and bake until just tender, an additional 10-15 minutes (do not overcook).

4. When ready, take the chicken breasts out of the baking dish and set them aside on a plate.

5. Place baking dish with the cooking “juices” on the stovetop over medium-high heat and pour in remaining vermouth. Bring to a boil and whisk in the buttermilk and grainy mustard. Lower heat and cook for a few minutes while stirring until well blended and creamy.

6. Place the chicken back in the baking dish, spoon the creamy sauce over it, and turn the heat off. Serve immediately with fresh ground pepper.

22. Lick a fat-free Fudgsicle. What better way to get 40 grams of calcium with only 43 calories?

23. Choose brown over white rice tonight and every night. It’s got three times the calcium.

24. Serve up a shrimp stir-fry tonight. Or dine on scallops or crab. Shellfish (along with dairy and meat) is rich in vitamin B12, in which men and women 65 and older may be deficient. Low levels can result in faster bone loss, studies find.

25. Sign up for a t’ai chi class at your local community center or YMCA. Several studies found t’ai chi cut the risk of falling nearly in half and cut the rate of fractures even in people who had falls, notes Joseph Lane, M.D., chief of the metabolic bone disease service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Ideally, you should practice t’ai chi for 10-15 minutes at a time, once or twice a week, to gain the benefit.

26. Make a container of nonfat yogurt a daily snack. With 216 milligrams of calcium, you’re well on your way to your daily allowance.

27. Get your calcium in unexpected places, like calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified cereals, and frozen yogurt. Okay, you probably knew there was calcium in frozen yogurt, but the bone benefits should go a long way toward assuaging any guilt over lapping up this delectable dessert.

28. Steam up a bowl of edamame this evening. Just five minutes is all it takes to prepare these delicious soybeans. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and pop the beans into your mouth as a before-dinner snack. The science is still evolving, but it seems that the natural plant estrogens in soy help strengthen bone the same way our own hormones do.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest