How to Feed Your Bones

Yes, your bones. When we think of the benefits of proper nutrition, we tend to think of the things that we need to keep our hearts, muscles, internal organs, and brains healthy. But our bones need nourishing, too.

Scientists have long known that vitamin D and calcium are important building blocks for bone health, and important nutrients for fighting the onset of osteoporosis and avoiding the risk of bone fracture. But a new study conducted by Spanish researchers and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that you can help to prevent osteoporosis and keep your bones healthy by eating what is commonly known as the Mediterranean Diet.

Olives and olive oil make for strong bones

The researchers studied 127 men between the ages of 55 and 80 who ate a diet rich in olives and olive oil, and found that their blood showed higher levels of osteocalcin, which is a known indicator of strong and healthy bones. As lead study author Dr. José Manuel Fernández-Real says, “This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans.”

This doesn’t mean that you should stop drinking milk (an important source of calcium and vitamin D), but it does mean that adding more olive oil to your diet – along with milk, yogurt, cheese, and exercise – may improve bone health and keep your skeletal system strong.

The so-called Mediterranean Diet – characterized by not eating a lot of meat, eating large quantities of fruits and vegetables, a high intake of healthy fats, and a moderate intake of alcohol – has been found in previous studies to be particularly beneficial to women. The Spanish study seems to indicate that these benefits are seen in men as well.

More diet and nutrition tips to keep your bones healthy

• Space out vitamin D and calcium supplements over time. Your body can only absorb so much of these nutrients at one time. So if you’re already drinking a glass of milk at breakfast, there is no point in taking a calcium supplement at the same time. Take it later in the day, when it can be absorbed. Similarly, with these two nutrients, larger quantities doesn’t mean better; if you take a supplement containing 1000 mg of calcium, your body will absorb only 200 mg of it, but if you take smaller doses at different times of the day, it will absorb more.

• Eat more soy. Foods based on soybeans are high in calcium, and provide a way for people who are sensitive to milk products to keep up their calcium intake.

• Go fish. Consuming more calcium in the form of milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, or soy milk won’t work as well to improve your bone health if you’re not also getting enough vitamin D. Fatty fishes such as salmon, tuna, and sardines contain high amounts of vitamin D.

• Eat “stronger” cereals. That is, breakfast cereals that have been “fortified” to include more vitamin D. Many fortified cereals contain as much as 10 to 20% of your recommended daily intake of this vitamin.

• Snack on almonds. Like olive oil, tree nuts such as almonds are an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet, and contain high amounts of not only calcium, but magnesium, which also has been found to play a part in the development of strong bones.

• Eat your greens. Green, leafy vegetables contain high amounts of vitamin K, which has been found in clinical studies to help lower the risk of hip fractures.

• “Potassium up.” Research indicates that a diet rich in potassium can improve your body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, and thus improve your bone health. Good sources of potassium include potatoes and bananas.

• Drink your orange juice. Most brands of orange juice available today have been fortified with both calcium and vitamin D, but that glass of OJ at breakfast may actually help these nutrients work better, too. Studies have shown that orange juice improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

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