Simple steps for better bone health

June 13, 2007|by LYNN LITTLE

Building strong bones is a lifelong project, and bone health is one of the important reasons why the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid Food Guidance System at 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 one that 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) and other calcium-rich foods every day: Dairy foods (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. 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.


The numbers are easy to remember: The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends three cups milk per day for adults and active children. The serving sizes are simple too: 8 ounces of milk is equal to 8 ounces of yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Other calcium-rich sources include fortified juice, canned salmon and sardines, broccoli, and green leafy veggies.

Lifetime bone health requires other nutrients, like protein, vitamins C and D, magnesium, phosphorus, and other minerals. The nutrient-rich eating plan outlined at is designed for strong bones and strong muscles to support them. The smartest dairy choices give you lots of nutrients (protein, calcium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamins A, B-12 and D) for few calories. So, your best bet is to pick fat-free and low-fat dairy foods most of the time.

When choosing dairy foods with more fat (hard cheeses like 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-a-day dairy servings.

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. What 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 their strength, bones require daily stimulation with weight bearing activity, like walking, basketball, biking, dancing, or water-aerobics classes.

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 delicious nutrient-rich foods, plenty of fun physical activity, and avoiding cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Try to make healthy bones an everyday habit for your family.

For more 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

· International Osteoporosis Foundation at

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

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