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Nutrition and osteoporosis

Nutrition and osteoporosis are closely linked. If you're not getting the right nutrients, whether in your diet or through supplements, you're putting yourself at greater risk of osteoporosis. But just what nutrients should you be getting to help fight osteoporosis, and how should you be getting them?

The most important nutrients for the prevention of osteoporosis are calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is a key building block for your bones, while vitamin D is vital to allow your bones to absorb calcium.

The two go hand in hand: if you don't get enough vitamin D, it won't matter how much calcium you get, because your bones can't absorb it properly. But if you don't get enough calcium, there's nothing for the vitamin D to help your bones absorb.

The primary source of natural vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, but excess sun carries the potential risk of skin cancer. As more of us use more suntan lotion and stay in the shade, we need to make sure we get enough vitamin D from safe sun exposure or food sources.

Nutrition and osteoporosis: Why food is your best bet

To strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis, you can get calcium and vitamin D from your diet, supplements, or both. What's most important is that you get them, but if you can, it's best to get these nutrients in the food you eat and the beverages you drink.

Why? First, because it's easier to remember. You may not take a tablet every day, but you eat every day.

Foods also are a more complete source of nutrition than supplements. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products not only contain high levels of calcium, but other key nutrients for bone health, like phosphorus and protein.

Milk, yoghurt and cheese contain so many of the nutrients that are necessary for bone health that they outperform supplement tablets.

Other good food sources of calcium are:

  • Fortified foods, like spreads and cereals.
  • Green, leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach.

Vitamin D is a little harder to get in your daily diet. Good food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna fish and sardines.
  • Orange juices and breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D.

Nutrition and osteoporosis: the role of supplements

Sometimes you may be told by a health professional that you need a nutrition boost to fight osteoporosis. If you can't get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, taking supplements is an essential part of your bone health. There are several different types of calcium supplements including: calcium citrate, calcium trisphosphate and calcium carbonate.

As far as your bones are concerned, it doesn't matter which type you take. The difference is in how you take them. Calcium carbonate supplements should be taken with meals for you to absorb the most calcium. The other supplements, however, don't need to be taken with food. So if it's not convenient for you to take a supplement with a meal, look for a non-calcium carbonate supplement.

Most of these supplements also come in formulas that include a dose of vitamin D. If you get the combination form you'll get both nutrients in one tablet.

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