By Florencia Tagliavini, Nutritionist.
We all know that calcium is very important for bone health and especially for a growing child, but what else is necessary to build healthy strong bones? Did you know that by age 20 we pretty much stop building bone mass and it slowly begins to break down from there on?
Just like our hair, skin, and lungs, bone is a living tissue that is constantly being built, broken down, and made anew. We build almost all our bone density when we're children and teens. The bone-building process is mostly finished around age 20. This is why during this stage it's important to build healthy strong bones as it lays the foundation for bone health throughout life. As adults, we still replace old bone with new bone, but more slowly. Over time, our bones get weaker as there is more bone that is broken down than being built.
Various nutrients work synergistically to build a healthy bone structure. Calcium is crucial and the most well-known nutrient, but without vitamin D, it's useless as it won't get absorbed. Vitamin K and magnesium are also essential nutrients and regular exercise plays a big role in bone mass and strength.
Calcium: bone contains 99% of our body´s calcium. Its one of the most important nutrients for building bone. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are the richest sources of calcium. Good plant-based sources include almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, figs, tofu prepared with calcium and soybeans and fortified foods such as certain juices, non-dairy beverages and cereals.
Vitamin D: is necessary to absorb calcium and for bone growth. The best source is the sun but the amount of sun absorbed greatly varies with skin pigmentation, season and geography. Getting daily short sun exposure is the best way to get vitamin D - 15 minutes per day may be enough for a fair-skinned person. For those who are not able to get daily sun exposure, there are just a few natural food sources of vitamin D, including egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. There are also foods that are fortified with vitamin D such as orange juice, milk, and some non-dairy beverages.
Vitamin K: is associated with bone density. Good sources are green leafy vegetables such as kale, turnip greens, cabbage, spinach and broccoli and peas, green beans, okra, kiwi fruit.
Magnesium: allows proper regulation of calcium and vitamin D. Nuts and seeds are great sources of magnesium. Legumes, avocado, cocoa, whole grains are other good sources.
Exercise: weight-bearing exercise stimulates bones to become more dense and strong. Exercise is important for building strong bones when we are younger, and it is essential for maintaining bone strength when we are older. Encourage kids to take up physical activities such as running, hiking, dancing, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, soccer and weight training.
There are other nutrients associated with bone health, this is why a balanced diet as well as a healthy lifestyle are important for bone health and overall wellbeing.