Your bones are living tissue, constantly changing and renewing themselves. Therefore, it’s possible to strengthen and rebuild bone mass, even if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. What you eat and do each day can either strengthen or weaken your bones. Here are some basic tips for building strong bones and keeping them healthy without drugs:
• Don’t concentrate on dairy. The only studies ever to show a connection between dairy consumption and bone strength are those funded by the dairy industry. Furthermore, the countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. One reason may be that while dairy foods contain calcium, they also remove calcium from the body by creating excess acid. So skip the dairy products and instead concentrate on the foods in the next paragraph.
• Eat foods with natural, plant-based calcium: toasted sesame seeds, leafy greens, and beans, for example. White beans such as Navy beans, Cannellini beans, and Great Northern beans are especially helpful. Wakame seaweed is rich in both calcium and magnesium, two minerals essential for your bones, so include it in some mild miso soup several times a week (no more than 1 flat teaspoon of miso per serving).
• Avoid sugar. Probably the number one culprit in weakening your bones is added sugar. Avoid white sugar, brown sugar, “natural”or “raw” sugar, date sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, fruit sweeteners, agave—if it’s sweet, it’s probably weakening your bones. Of course that includes sweet foods such as soda, pastries, and foods that hide sugar, such as most refined and packaged foods. Instead, increase your consumption of healthy sweets, such as winter squash, carrots, parsnips, cooked onions, sweet peas, cabbages, and chestnuts. A modest amount of temperate-climate fruit is also helpful, particularly if it keeps you from eating more extreme sweets.
• Watch the acid. If your body contains too much acid, it pulls calcium from the bones to buffer the acid and make you more alkaline. The more acid you create, the more calcium your body uses up. Ultimately, this can weaken the bones. Foods that contain acid or trigger your body to produce acid include meat, soda, eggs, coffee, alcohol, fruit juice, and too much of the following foods: vinegar, citrus fruits and juice, excess fruit and raw foods. One of the best foods to alkalize your body is leafy greens, so eat plenty of kale, broccoli, watercress, turnip greens, and collards.
• Get some weight-bearing exercise most days. The best is a daily walk for 30-40 minutes outdoors in the sunshine. Exercising with weights also puts a strain on your bones, which helps build bone mass. Here’s an easy exercise that helps. Stand up. Rise to your toes. Then drop to your heels, banging your heels lightly on the floor. Start slowly, then gradually increase the number of repetitions each day. Another good exercise for building bone mass in the hips is squatting. Again, start slowly, then gradually increase your number of reps.
• Stay tuned regarding vitamin D. For decades, doctors have told us that our bodies need vitamin D in order for our bones to absorb calcium. However, the latest research indicates that vitamin D may not make a difference. What to do? First, get your levels checked, especially since vitamin D performs many helpful functions in the body. If your vitamin D levels are 20 milligrams per deciliter, you are considered safe. If your levels are lower than that, you may want to consider taking a daily vitamin D3 supplement of 600-800 units. Or you could get your “sunshine” vitamin from the sunshine. Take a daily walk outdoors and allow the sunshine to touch your skin. Another natural source of vitamin D is fatty fish, such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon (be sure to buy wild caught). But no matter how you get your vitamin D, your body needs oil in order to absorb this bone-building vitamin. Be sure to include a tablespoon or so of oil in your diet each day. Sesame and olive oil are the best choices.
• Get more information. For more detailed information, you may want to read Dr. Annemarie Colbin’s excellent book on bone health: The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones.
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