Fab Five: Bone Health
Hello guys and happy Easter Sunday! I haven't done a fab five on here in a while so I thought I would get a new topic out to you this week: bone health. This is an area that is often forgotten about amongst the glamorous hot topics of things such as digestive health or skin health. However bone health is so so important, especially for women as post-menopause, 50% of us will break a bone. We lay down bone mass rapidly up until our late twenties and then we have a period of maintenance up until our 40s which is when we start to lose bone. During menopause women can lose 1-2% of their bone mass per year which is huge! This dramatically increases our risk of developing osteoporosis (thin, brittle bones) and our risk of breaking a bone. That is why it is so important to lay down as much bone as you can during your earlier years and also to maintain it as best you can later on. There are a few nutrients that are vital for bone health so lets discuss!
Calcium is probably the most obvious one and I am sure many of you are thinking well duh? This is obvious for a reason, calcium is crucial for our bones and teeth - 99% of our body's calcium is in our bones and teeth and the other 1% is circulating in our blood. It is a mineral that "mineralises" our bones and keeps them hard and strong. However, that circulating calcium is also important for things such as muscle contraction and nerve signalling so if we don't have enough in our blood, due to not eating enough, our body will pull calcium from our bones to use in our blood. This weakens our bones and over time can contribute to things such as osteoporosis so we must eat enough in our diets! Milk and dairy products are all amazing sources of calcium, milk-alternatives such as almond or soy milk also are provided you bought a branded milk from a supermarket as they are fortified with calcium. Making your own almond milk may seem like a great idea, but it will not be fortified with calcium like say Alpro almond milk is so if you also aren't drinking any dairy you are likely not getting enough calcium! Green leafy veggies are another good source. Lastly, let's not forget that Easter chocolate!
2. Vitamin D
While eating plenty of calcium is great, getting enough vitamin D is also crucial. Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium from our food and also decreases our excretion of calcium. Without vitamin D, conditions such as Ricket's occur where the bone fails to mineralise (harden) properly. The good news is that during the warmer months (April - September) we can get all of our vitamin D from the sun. 10 minutes of sunlight a day produces more than enough for our needs. However during the cooler months we cannot produce it from the sun because it is too weak, so the UK recommends we all take a supplement as there aren't many good dietary sources that we regularly eat. The best food sources are fish, eggs and fortified foods, but a supplement is best!
3. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is important for bone health because it produces a certain amino acid that basically acts like a glue in our bones, helping to keep the calcium stuck in there which, as I mentioned before, keeps our bones strong! It is also important for a bone protein called osteocalcin. Good sources of vitamin K include dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens, broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, cheese, yoghurt, kefir and fermented tofu are also a good source of vitamin K.
The potassium story is a tad more complicated to explain! Our body tightly regulates its pH to keep us alive, the standard western diet which contains lots of meats and grains and not enough fruit & veg is quite acidic. To combat this, our body uses bone salts from our bones as an alkali reserve to neutralise this acid and keep our pH stable. This means that our body pulls these salts from our bones in response to our diet, weakening our bones. However potassium is also an alkaline food, so eating plenty of potassium reduces the need to pull from our bones and keeps them stronger! The good news is that potassium is in lots of fruits and vegetables, squash, sweet potato, banana, spinach and avocados are particularly good sources.
After the last nutrient, you may be thinking - wait? I thought meat can make our bones weaker? Well, although protein is an acid-forming food, getting enough protein is important for our bones too. Protein is vital for growth and maintenance of tissues throughout our body and bone is no different. Studies show that protein helps maintain bone density and reduce bone loss. However, too much protein is definitely not good for our bones either so we need to get the levels just right! Meat, beans, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes are all great sources of protein. Dairy is also a good source of protein, so combined with its calcium and vitamin K content, it is an important contributor to bone health! Check out my macronutrient fact sheet to learn how much protein we actually need.