HealthONE - April 16, 2019

As a kid, many of us were told to drink milk to help make our bones strong. But the age group that may be most at risk for losing bone strength is postmenopausal women.

Osteoporosis is a health condition that causes a person's bones to become thin, brittle and susceptible to breaks. Osteoporosis affects 30 percent of postmenopausal women in the U.S. Of these women with osteoporosis, 40 percent will suffer at least one fracture.

For women, there are certain risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot control, such as age, family history and body frame. However, women can take steps now to prevent osteoporosis by making changes to their diet to strengthen their bones or maintain bone health.

Nutrients your bones need to stay strong

Your body has 206 bones, which are under a constant state of stress. Your bones are routinely undergoing repair and bone cells have a very high turnover rate. Fun fact: the skeleton of a young person has completely different bone cells every four years.

For bone health, it's important to eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Getting these nutrients in your diet can help improve bone strength and density and minimize the effects of osteoporosis later in life. Bone density refers to how much calcium and other minerals are in your bones. Bone density typically peaks in your 20s and 30s, so it is crucial to eat a bone-healthy diet as you age.

Make sure you are getting enough calcium

Generally, adults need between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams of calcium daily. There are many foods high in calcium, including:

  • 8-ounce cup of milk (dairy) -- 300 milligrams of calcium per serving
  • 6-ounce cup of yogurt -- 250 milligrams of calcium
  • 1-ounce serving of cheese -- 195 to 335 milligrams of calcium
  • 4-ounce cup of cottage cheese -- 130 milligrams of calcium
  • 8-ounce cup soy milk -- 300 milligrams of calcium

Dark, leafy green vegetables are another good source of calcium. One half-cup of kale or spinach has 50 to 130 milligrams of calcium. Some foods, like orange juice, tofu and breakfast cereal, are fortified with calcium. Check nutrition labels to make sure you are getting enough calcium in your diet.

Foods high in vitamin D

Typically, adults should get between 600 and 800 IUs (international units) of vitamin D per day. As most foods don't contain a lot of vitamin D, the best source for vitamin D is actually sunlight. Even getting 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week can boost your vitamin D levels. You can also supplement your vitamin D intake by eating these foods:

  • Swordfish (566 IUs of vitamin D per serving)
  • Salmon (447 IUs of vitamin D)
  • Canned tuna (154 IUs of vitamin D)
  • Fortified orange juice (137 IUs of vitamin D)
  • Fortified milk (115 to 124 IUs of vitamin D)
  • Eggs (41 IUs of vitamin D)

Importance of strength training for maintaining bone health

As you age, another effective way to strengthen your bones is to engage in weight-bearing exercises. Doing things like weight training, running and walking on a regular basis can help improve bone strength.