Osteoporosis (from “osteo” meaning bones and “porosis”, porous or cavities) describes a condition in which bones lose their density and become so brittle and weak that they can fracture even with the slightest exertions such as coughing or bending down.
Many people do not know they have osteoporosis until they break or fracture a bone. This potentially disabling bone disease may not be completely reversible, but you can stop it from becoming worse by adopting a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
“Besides taking medication to slow down osteoporosis, consuming enough dietary calcium that meets the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is essential,” says Maggie Yap, a dietitian from the Department of Dietetics at Singapore General Hospital. The RDA for daily calcium intake is 800mg for adults aged 19 to 50 and 1,000mg for those aged 50 and above.
What causes bone loss?
Rapid bone loss is a result of many factors though menopausal and middle-aged women (aged 50 and older) and the elderly are at higher risk of osteoporosis. These factors include:
- Low oestrogen in women (due to menopause, extreme athletic training or eating disorders)
- Low testosterone in men (due to andropause, testicular or pituitary gland dysfunctions)
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Low calcium and vitamin D intakes
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Long-term intake of certain cancer drugs and steroid medications such as Femara for breast cancer treatment and corticosteroids for asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
- Back pain
- Stooped posture
- Loss of height
- Bone fractures (usually in the hips, wrist or spine)
Healthy diet for stronger bones
A healthy diet rich in calcium, minerals, and vitamin D will complement any medications or calcium supplements you are taking to slow down osteoporosis.
Include these calcium-rich foods in your diet for good bone health or to prevent further bone loss:
- Calcium-fortified milk
(one cup, 500 to 600mg calcium)
- Calcium-fortified soymilk
(one cup, 450mg calcium)
(one slice, 150-200mg calcium)
- Dark green vegetables
(one serving of broccoli, kai lan or spinach, 50-200mg calcium)
- Canned sardines
(100g, 300 mg calcium)
Vitamin D is found in eggs, sundried shitake mushrooms, vitamin D-fortified milk, and fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon. Some tips:
- Take vitamin D supplement together with calcium supplement for better calcium absorption.
- 10-15 minutes of daily sun exposure will give you enough vitamin D for bone tissue renewal and mineralisation.
Other dietary considerations
Other minerals and vitamins are important good bone health. You only need a small amount of these:
- Magnesium (found in avocado, banana, dried apricots, nuts, tofu, whole grains, peas and beans)
- Zinc (found in meat, shellfish, seeds and nuts like almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
- Vitamin A (found in carrots, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, and winter squash)
- Vitamin B (found in whole grains, meat, eggs, beans, tempeh, lentils, legumes, and milk)
- Vitamin K (found in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables)