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5 Foods to Strengthen Bones and Joints

By Julia Cruz
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

Start off the day with a double shot of calcium. Choose a calcium-fortified cereal that is high in fiber and low in sugar, and then add milk. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow looks like the picture of good health - radiant skin, a long and lean body, and an Oscar-winning smile. But recently the 38-year old star of "Country Strong" and "Shakespeare In Love" was diagnosed with osteopenia, or low bone density, a precursor to osteoporosis. According to Paltrow's blog GOOP, her doctors told her she wasn't getting enough Vitamin D.

"It is important to be aware of the amount of calcium and vitamin D you consume each day," says Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian in the Nutrition Therapy department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). "Bones need calcium to stay strong and Vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium."

A 2009 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found as many as 3 out of 4 Americans suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency. We all know about the bone-building benefits of milk, but many other foods can help boost your intake of Vitamin D and the calcium you need to keep your bones strong and joints supple.

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese provide most of our calciumEat Calcium Rich Foods

Here are 5 food suggestions from the Nutrition Therapy team at BIDMC:

  1. Calcium-fortified Cereal - Start off the day with a double shot of calcium. Choose a calcium-fortified cereal that is high in fiber and low in sugar, and then add milk. Whole Grain Total cereal with a cup of milk adds up to 600mg of calcium - half the recommended daily intake for adults.
  2. Edamame - This Asian soybean is packed with calcium - 197mg in just half a cup. You can find edamame fresh or frozen at most grocery stores. Boil fresh whole edamame pods in lightly salted water or microwave frozen edamame and sprinkle with a small amount of sesame oil.
  3. Dark Leafy Greens - Keep your diet interesting with a variety of dark, leafy greens to choose from - Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard, Mustard Greens and Bok Choy to name a few. One cup of Collard Greens provides 256mg of calcium.
  4. Yogurt - High in protein and healthy bacteria for your gut, yogurt offers 400mg of calcium in just an 8-ounce serving. Choose non-fat yogurt for a satisfying and healthy snack.
  5. Milk Alternatives - People with lactose intolerance often have trouble digesting dairy, and have to miss out on a major source of calcium. Choose enriched soymilk or almond milk instead- 300mg of calcium in one cup.

Let the Sun Shine In

And don't forget to let the sun shine in. The body manufactures Vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, giving it the nickname "the sunshine vitamin." Ten to 15 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week is enough to produce the amount of Vitamin D the body needs, but that's not always an easy task during long New England winters.

"We have to work harder for Vitamin D here," says Sandy Allonen, a dietician at BIDMC. "Our bodies can't make vitamin D from the sun from October until April."

Keep Track of Your Daily Intake

Most importantly, keep track of how much calcium and Vitamin D you consume each day. If you suspect you're not getting enough, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

"It's good to know if you're Vitamin D deficient," says Allonen. "Then you can take steps to fix the problem and keep building strong bones. The goal is to be able to stay active at any age."

* How much do you know about bone health? Take our Bone Health Quiz.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

Contact Information

Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215