DASH Diet and Healthy Bones

Weighing in at just about 20 pounds and made up of 206 separate bones, your skeleton is a marvel of nature. It supports and protects you, giving you strength and stability. Although it may look solid and unyielding, your skeleton is a living tissue that also serves as a reservoir for calcium and phosphorous. These two minerals are critical to the normal function of your body’s organs. When blood levels dip below normal, your hormones allow your bones to release their calcium and phosphorous stores. What’s more, the interiors of your bones house the bone marrow, which is responsible for creating blood cells and cells involved in immunity.

Clearly, your bones are an integral part of your health and contribute mightily to your quality of life. So how can you help them to help you? By getting them the nutrients they need courtesy of the DASH diet:

  • Calcium: Although you can take calcium supplements, and many people do, your bones take up and use calcium from food much more effectively. The DASH diet is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of this mineral that’s vital to bone health. The obvious sources of calcium are DASH’s low-fat dairy foods. What you may not know is that many other foods included in the DASH diet are also rich in this important mineral, such as

    • Calcium-fortified foods such as soy milk, tofu, some orange juices, and many breakfast cereals

    • Canned salmon and sardines, if the soft bones are included (try making a salmon dip with low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh dill — blend in a food processor, with bones, until smooth)

    • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and Chinese cabbage (although the calcium is in a form that’s more difficult for your body to absorb)

    • Whole grains

  • Magnesium: DASH is a great way to get plenty of magnesium, which is integral to strong bones. Green leafy veggies, beans, and nuts are super sources.

  • Protein: Very high-protein diets can leach calcium out of the bones and into the bloodstream. If you stick with DASH, you’ll get plenty of protein, but you won’t go over the top.

  • Vitamin D: Called the sunshine vitamin (because sunlight creates a reaction that allows your skin to manufacture it), vitamin D is another critical nutrient for bone health. Using sunscreen (as you should) or covering up with clothes will block this effect by as much as 95 percent. You can get vitamin D from fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), eggs, and of course dairy products, which are often fortified with it.

Exercise is a perfect complement to the DASH eating plan and yet another important factor in maintaining strong and healthy bones. If you’re not doing it already, work in some weight-bearing exercise — such as walking, weight training, or dancing — at least two and a half hours each week.

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