Keeping your bones strong might seem like a goal for later years, when they become thinner and weaker. But bone health is actually something to consider much sooner. We reach peak bone density at around the age of 30.
Bone loss speeds up once you reach midlife. For women, it increases dramatically around the time of menopause. This is due to the drop in the hormone oestrogen, which is linked to bone density.
The good news is there are simple ways to keep bones healthy at any age and help prevent osteoporosis (a chronic disease that basically results in weaker bones that are prone to breaks and fractures).
Calcium is one of the foundations of strong bones. Our recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium changes as we go through life, with women and girls aiming for 1000mg-1300mg a day. Around three to four serves of dairy each day will help you reach this RDI. These amounts are easily factored into your diet, even if you are trying to lose weight, as low-fat dairy products are also packed with calcium.
Jean Hailes dietitian Anna Waldron says, 'A calcium-rich breakfast is a fantastic way to start your day and get you well on your way with your calcium requirements. Have a generous amount of milk or yoghurt on your cereal or porridge, or have some yoghurt with cereal or fruit. Try making pancakes on the weekend and serve with some fruit and yoghurt on top."
There are many other foods that also contain calcium (although in smaller amounts), including: soy milk or other alternative milks often have added calcium, canned sardines or salmon, tofu, almonds, spinach and chickpeas.
With a bit of imagination, you can transform a few ingredients into a tasty calcium-rich dish that works for the whole family. A simple lemon, raspberry and yoghurt pudding baked in a mug in the microwave, for instance, can take just a few minutes to prepare and can deliver more than 300mg of calcium. Or a kale, feta and pumpkin pie can give you around 445mg of daily calcium needs, while also delivering a tasty mix of vegetables.
What else do bones need to stay healthy?
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium. Try to get at least 10 minutes safe sun exposure each day to top up your levels. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone but salmon and other fatty fish, eggs and margarine provide some.
Regular weight bearing exercise also strengthens bones – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity such as walking or playing sport each day. Gentle weight lifting (resistance training) is also great for strengthening bones, increasing flexibility and reducing falls.
If you don't think you're getting enough calcium or vitamin D, talk to your doctor. You might be able to take a supplement to help boost your levels.
Says Jean Hailes psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks, 'Whatever lifestyle changes you might make, for a change to be successful it's important that you make specific and achievable goals."
For calcium-rich recipes:
Try the Baked ricotta dessert from the Jean Hailes Kitchen
Try Dairy Australia's One minute lemon, raspberry and yoghurt mug puddings
Try Dairy Australia's Kale, feta and pumpkin pie
Go to Dairy Australia's Legendairy recipes
Find more information on calcium, vitamin D and how to protect your frame, on these bone health webpages.
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
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