When you are having your meal, have you ever wonder if you are eating the right food to strengthen your bones? The misconception that most people have is that bones naturally deteriorates and loses its strength as one ages. So why do we bother what are the best foods for healthy bones?
Yes, no doubt our bones will start to thin out as we step into middle age but this natural bone deterioration process can be stop by healthy eating. By choosing foods that provide the bone-building nutrients, it helps to prevent the occurrence of low bone density, bone softening (osteomalacia), brittle bones or osteoporosis at any age.
But before we go into the tips on how to eat your way to strong bone health, we have to understand “what is bone made out of” and the bone-building nutrients which are required for maximizing bone mass.
What Is Bone Made Up Of?
Basically, there are 2 layers in the structure of the bone. The dense and compact outer layer is known as the cortical bone while the light and porous inner layer is the trabecular bone. Within the cavities of the bone, it is filled up with soft tissues known as bone marrow which are either red or yellow colour. One fact that most people are not aware is that bones are ‘alive’ and they are made up of living tissues like blood vessels, collagen and nerves.
There are 2 kinds of living bone cells known as the osteoblast and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts involve the formation of new bone while osteoclasts resorb or dissolve the old bones. Then there are osteocytes (mature osteoblasts that have completed their bone formation) involving in the metabolic exchange with the blood flowing through the bones.
This active process of bone formation and resorption is known as bone remodeling which is the vital factor that determines how strong the bones are. If the rate of bone resorption is faster than the rate of bone formation, it means that the bone is losing its density. This happens when there is little or no replenishment of the bone-building nutrients to the bones.
Besides the living bone cells, there are several fibers and chemical tissues that form the matrix of the bone. Within these tissues, protein collagen and hydroxyapatite crystals (crystals of calcium salts) are the main materials that provide overall strength to the bones. Bones are made up of 65% calcium phosphate salts and 35% collagen. Collagenous fibers are the ones that give flexibility and strength to withstand the forces of stretching (tensile strength) while calcium salts provide the hardness and compressional strength to endure the forces of squeezing.
With the combination of all these materials, it provides a skeleton of extraordinary tensile and compressed strength. This explains why bones are very hard and they provide the supporting framework of our whole body. Based on per square inch, some of our bones are able to support up to 12,000 pounds of pressure. As you can see, bones are actually complex organs which most of us have neglected in our daily lives. However, if you think back now, without them it is impossible for us to move the body at all and not to mention going for exercise, playing your favorite sports or getting a job done at all.
Believe it or not, there are at least 20 bone-building minerals, vitamins or nutrients that are vital to strong bone health. Other than calcium which are the commonly known minerals for strong bones, other essential nutrients include phosphorus, magnesium, silica, chromium, copper, zinc, manganese, potassium, boron, copper, strontium, Vitamin A, D, C, B6, B9, B12, K1, K2, protein and fats. Any deficiency in any of these nutrients will lead to bone thinning disease known as osteoporosis or weakening of the bones, osteomalacia.
Osteoporosis And Osteomalacia
In osteoporosis, the bone density is greatly reduced as the rate of the osteoblastic activity slows down in the bone due to the deficiency of calcium. Calcium deficiency, otherwise known as hypolcalemia, happens when there is inadequate diet or poor absorption of dietary calcium.
As such, bones are exposed to the increased risks of fracture when the optimal bone health is being compromised. Other causes of osteoporosis such as the lack of physical activity or exercise can also leads to bone loss. Malnutrition becomes an issue here especially if there is insufficient intake of calcium and vitamin C.
With this, it affects the formation of the bone matrix and causes severe osteoporosis conditions leading to bone breaks, deformities or disability. Such cases are most prominent in elderly people as their bones may become brittle and weak due to their ignorance in bone-building nutrients. Osteoporosis is also common in women after their menopause period where there is a lack of estrogen to stimulate the activity of osteoblast. Therefore, bone mass can be affected as the new bone material is not produced efficiently.
Vitamin D is also another vital nutrient that maintains the balance between calcium and phosphorus by supporting calcium absorption. Deficiency in Vitamin D can result in osteomalacia, a disease that is characterized by weaken muscles or painful bones. Sometimes, it may develop when the body is unable to absorb the benefits of Vitamin D. This causes the bones to break down faster that the rate of new bones formation.
Other than the insufficient consumption of Vitamin D, certain diseases can affects Vitamin D absorbency such as Cholestatic liver disease, Crohn’s disease, Coeliac disease and Cystic fibrosis. People who seldom get exposure to the sunlight are also at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Best Foods For Strong Bone Health
There are several foods which actually can promote bones strengthening and formation. Generally, dairy products are rich in calcium though some of them are also higher in their fats content. Go for those that are lower in fats such as 2% fat-free yogurt, fat-free or low-fat cheese, skim milk are generally good sources of calcium.
Whole grains foods such as whole wheat, oats, buckwheat, barley and cornmeal besides promoting satiety (make you feel full), they also offer great benefits to the bones. The fiber and vitamin B from these foods upon digestion, becomes an essential protein that promotes bone formation. Magnesium is another nutrient that is found in grains that helps to absorb calcium from the blood.
Vegetables are another source of food that provides various minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Green leafy vegetables like kale, parsley and ‘bok choy’ are consider the best vegetables for good bone health. They are rich in osteocalcin, a protein that helps to reduce the risk of bone fractures and improves bone density. Though spinach is also a source of calcium, it contains oxalates that can affects the absorption of calcium.
Those foods that are rich in protein include soy beans and meats like beef, chicken, pork and fish. Seeds and nuts are bonus foods for the bones as they contain essential fatty acids, plant proteins and other trace minerals. By eating 2 or 3 tablespoons of the nuts, seeds or grains, it provides the appropriate amount of nutrients to the bones.
Healthy fats are important nutrients for strong bone health too. However, try to balance the fats intake to the body. Your diet should include a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. One good example is sardines which is exceptional rich in omega-3 fatty acids and provide other nutrients like vitamin D and proteins.
Maybe you have doubts that drinking fluoridated water actually adds density to the bones. But it is a fact which is supported by several studies. Fluoride is actually good for strong bones as it stimulates the formation of new bone. In addition, it provides dental health and helps to prevent cavities. So, if you drink only bottled water, this can cause fluoride deficiency in your bones and teeth as well.
Prunes have found to be effective in increasing the bone density. Besides, it contains Vitamin C, phytochemicals (minerals found in edible plant food), Vitamin K, fiber and antioxidants. This combination of the nutrients may help to restore tissues in the bone as well as slowing down the rate of re-absorption. Borax is a vital mineral that are also found in prunes that are essential for healthy bones and joints. The recommended standard portion of snacking prunes is around 4 to 5 prunes.
Seaweed is rich in trace minerals and high iodine content. Typically, iodine helps in improving thyroid condition as well as the parathyroid gland functionality. Parathyroid thyroid gland is important for bone health as it regulates the amount of calcium in the blood and bones.
Vitamin D rich foods include cod liver oil, salmon fish, cereals, mushrooms and eggs. Other than these foods, you can go active by getting yourself exposed to the sunlight. The UV rays from the sun helps to promote the production of Vitamin D in your skin.
Foods That Are Bad For Bone Health
On the other hand, there are foods which are harmful and deplete calcium levels in the body. Plain or table salt is one of the main culprits that causes the loss of calcium in bones. By consuming 2,300 mg of salt, it results in the loss of 40 mg of calcium. Processed and fast foods are also the “accomplices” that contributes to the excessive intake of salt in the body.
Soda drinks has no nourishment value at all! So avoid it as much as you can. It contains phosphoric acid that is detrimental to bone health. In addition, the high acidity levels can decrease bone density, resulting in weaker and brittle bones. The same goes for coffee which is a popular beverage since many decades ago. However, it is important to moderate on the intake of coffee as more than 3 cups a day is bad for your bone health.
Alcoholic drinks can affect bone health in several aspects. To begin with, excessive alcohol intake greatly reduces the level of calcium reserves in the body. Besides, it also causes the body to be ‘immune’ to Vitamin D which is essential for calcium absorption. Furthermore, heavy drinking can affects the production of testosterone which is a hormone that is related to the production of osteoblasts. High cortisol levels are also found in people with alcoholism which increases the risk of bones breaking down and lower rate of bone formation.
Processed or table sugars are acidifying. If consumed in excessive quantities, it can cause an increase in urinary calcium excretion. Refined and bleached sugars are produced by an array of chemicals. The acidification of tissues by the sulfur dioxide and phosphoric acid used in making processed sugar will cause the loss of bone density. Glucose, the byproduct of granulated sugars can cause depletion in Vitamin C which affects the bones.
Processed and frozen meats are extremely acidifying. The preservatives and flavor enhancer (sodium nitrite) in these foods combine with amino proteins to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines lead to the development of chemical carcinogens that destroys bone tissues and density.
White flour, white bread, muffins, pasta contains phosphorus compounds that accelerates bone loss and demineralization. When consumed, they create an acidic reaction that ‘draws’ essential minerals from the bones.
Eating your way to strong bone health is not that difficult at all. Just make sure that the foods which you consumed include the essential minerals, vitamins and bone-building nutrients for optimal bone health. But not forgetting that involvement in physical exercise is also equally important to keep your bones and joints strong and healthy. Last but not least is cutting down on your smoking and drinking so that your bones can enjoy the good foods which you have provided.