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Bone health and preventing fractures

02nd Jan 2020

Healthy bones are important for the wellbeing of everyone but extremely important as we age.

Good nutrition is key to preventing fractures. Adequate Calcium, Vitamin D and protein
will help to maintain good bone health. Think of these three nutrients as the same as
a three-legged stool. All three legs are needed for the stool to be to be stable. All three nutrients are needed for bone health.

So what does each nutrient do, why are they important and where can we get them?

1. Calcium: Calcium is the building block of bones. It is also needed for teeth, nerve and muscle function and blood clotting. We can store calcium in our bones until around the mid-twenties. After that, if calcium needs are not met by food, calcium will be withdrawn from the ‘calcium bank’ in bones. This causes bones to become weaker and more prone to osteoporosis and fractures. People over about 60 years of age should aim to have four serves of dairy each day. A serve is 1 cup (250ml) milk or a small tub of yoghurt or 2 slices of cheese or 1 cup of custard. Soy milk is a suitable alternative to cow’s milk if it has been fortified with at least 100mg. of calcium per 100ml of soy milk. Soft edible bones of canned fish provide calcium. A can of sardines provides 480mg of calcium (about 1/3 of daily needs).

2. Vitamin D: Vitamin D works with calcium to increase absorption of calcium into the
bones. There is a very small amount of vitamin D in some foods but most will come from direct sunlight (UV rays don’t penetrate glass). Try to be in sunlight for 10 - 15 minutes most days of the week (before 10 am and after 3pm – Eastern Standard Time). Expose arms and legs (face if you like). Sitting in the sun for that morning or afternoon cuppa is a great way to get vitamin D for the day.

3. Protein: Protein helps maintain bone health and muscle strength, reducing the risk
of falls. Our muscle amount tends to reduce with age. To help rebuild muscle try to
have about 25 – 30 g of protein at each meal. Great options to achieve this are: 2 eggs scrambled with extra cheese: a piece of meat about the size of the palm of your hand: a can of sardines provides 25g protein plus calcium.

For extra protein through the day you could snack on nuts or cheese and crackers, drink a glass of milk with morning tea and include dairy desserts such as custard, creamed rice and ice-cream. Add milk and/ or cheese wherever you can e.g. to mashed vegetables and soup.

What about supplements? If you think you may need calcium or vitamin D supplements, check with your G.P. If you take supplements, you still need protein and calories to help maintain muscle.

Putting it all together: Starting the day with scrambled eggs with cheese and a glass of
milk, eaten outside in the sun is a great start to getting your calcium, protein and vitamin D. If you are able to go for a 30 minute walk after you have eaten, even better for muscles and bones!

Putting these small changes into practice will help support the health of bones and
muscle and so reduce your risk of falls and bone fractures.