Food & Nutrition: Milk and dairy will keep bones strong to help prevent osteoporosis

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

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May was National Osteoporosis Month followed by June as National Dairy Month, which could really be celebrated together.

I am sure your mother told you to do many good things like: eat your vegetables and fruits, drink your milk, don’t smoke and go outside and play. Well, mom knew best. Today doctors are still encouraging these practices, regardless of age. 

More than 10 million Americans have some degree of osteoporosis and another 18 million have low bone mass, placing them at risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis often is called the silent disease. Osteoporosis is a painful and crippling bone disease. It develops slowly. So slowly, in fact, it often takes years before you, or even your doctor, realizes you have it.

Osteoporosis can be prevented if you know what it is, how it develops and what you can do to help avoid it. Part of the disease has to do with age. If you’re between 20 and 40, you’ve reached your full, adult height. By age 20, your bones are about as long and wide as they will ever be.

However, you can and should still make them stronger. Think of bones as hollow tubes. Between ages 20 and 40, you can continue to fill up those hollow tubes with calcium to make them denser. The denser and stronger you can make your bones now, the lower your risk of developing osteoporosis in the future.

If you’re over 40, your bones are starting to become thinner. This is just a normal part of aging. Your bones become thinner because they are losing calcium faster than they gain it. You can slow down the rate at which your bones lose calcium. Eating calcium-rich foods is one of the best ways to keep your bones strong and healthy. Dairy is one of the best sources of calcium, followed by dark green vegetables.

Select low-fat or fat-free when you choose milk, yogurt and other milk products. If you don’t or can’t consume milk, choose lactose-free products or other calcium sources such as fortified foods and beverages.

Healthy adults need at least three cups of milk each day. A four-step plan is necessary to help prevent osteoporosis. The first step is a healthy eating plan that uses “MyPlate: Steps to a Healthier You,” and foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. The second step is weight-bearing exercise. Step three is a healthy lifestyle, which is steps one and two with no smoking or excessive alcohol use. The last of the four steps is bone density testing and medications when appropriate. 

For more recipes and tips from Purdue Extension Educator Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.
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