Simple steps for better bone health

November 09, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Building strong bones is a lifelong project.

Bone health is one of the important reasons why the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and recommend the equivalent of three daily cups of milk for adults and active kids. Dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium and other bone-building nutrients.

Our bones get strong and stay strong through a combination of food and fitness. Building and maintaining a healthy skeleton is a process that begins before birth and must continue through every decade of life. Preventing osteoporosis in old age is something that should begin in childhood.

The smartest way to healthy bones is daily doses of nutrient-rich foods and weight-bearing physical activities, along with avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake.


Enjoy three cups of milk (or the equivalent) every day. The numbers are easy to remember: recommends three cups of milk per day for adults and active children. The serving sizes are simple too: 8 ounces of milk equals 8 ounces of yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Nutrient-rich dairy foods help build strong bones (to prevent osteoporosis); help lower blood pressure (to prevent heart disease and stroke); and help maintain a healthy weight. When choosing dairy foods with more fat (hard cheeses such as cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss), just be smart with your portion size. All it takes is 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese (or 1/3 cup shredded cheese) to equal one of your three daily dairy servings.

Dairy foods such as fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are a tasty, easy way to meet your daily need for 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium. Lifetime bone health requires other nutrients, like protein, vitamins C and D, magnesium, phosphorus and other minerals.

The smartest dairy choices give you lots of nutrients (protein, vitamins A, B12, and D, calcium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and riboflavin) for few calories. So, your best bet is to pick fat-free and low-fat dairy foods most of the time.

Enjoy other bone-building foods. Other calcium sources include fortified juice, canned salmon and sardines, broccoli and green, leafy veggies.

The nutrient-rich eating plan outlined on is designed for strong bones - and strong muscles to support them.

Get energized with dairy snack treats. Quick and easy, dairy foods are a delightful way to satisfy your snack cravings and energize your day. A string cheese or portable yogurt can even be eaten on the go. Want something sweet? Pick up a cold container of fat-free or low-fat chocolate milk.

If you are lactose intolerant, small servings of lactose-free dairy foods are the best choice. Yogurt with active cultures and hard cheese slices make yummy snacks, or you can take the enzyme lactase (in pills or drops) before consuming milk products.

Enjoy fun physical activity every day: The familiar slogan "move it or lose it" definitely applies to a healthy skeleton. To maintain strength, bones require daily stimulation with weight-bearing activity, such as walking, basketball, biking, dancing or water-aerobics classes.

All children and adults need a half-hour to an hour of daily physical activity for healthy weight, healthy hearts, for strong bones and muscles. Focus on active play with friends and family as the fun way to get moving and get fit.

Every member of your family, from babies to grandparents, needs nutrition and physical activity to stand tall. When kids see adults drinking milk and being active, they'll want to do the same healthy things.

Maintaining healthy bones is all about a healthy lifestyle. All it takes is plenty of nutrient-rich foods, plenty of fun physical activity and avoiding cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake.

For information about osteoporosis and the important roles of nutrition and fitness in maintaining bone health at all ages, visit:

Surgeon General at

National Osteoporosis Foundation at

HealthierUs at and click on physical fitness, nutrition and make healthy choices.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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