Thursday, October 29, 2009

Helping kids build stronger bones

You probably know that the calcium in milk is vital for helping kids build strong bones; but did you know that a child's vitamin D, salt, and soda intake can make a difference too?

Building healthy bones is very important for young children! Up until the age of about 30, the human body builds healthy bone (if a "bone-building" diet is followed). After this age, it is not possible to increase one's bone density. It is therefore key for children to build a healthy skeleton while they are young. Building very dense bones when you are young ensures a greater reserve of bone so that as age-associated degradation occurs, the chances of developing osteoporosis are decreased. In addition, strong and healthy bones are less likely to break.

Just what is included in a "bone-building" diet?

Calcium- our bodies need calcium to build healthy teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in milk and dairy products as well as in foods such as fortified orange juice, tofu and leafy greens.

Potassium- potassium-rich fruits and vegetables can help make bones stronger. Serve bananas, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, oranges, potatoes, leafy greens and other potassium-rich foods every day.

Vitamin D- vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and is therefore vital for building bone. Unfortunately, most kids do not get enough vitamin D. Our bodies can make vitamin D from the sun shining on our skin. However, in the winter here in Colorado we are too far north to get enough direct sunlight for this to happen. Make sure to include food sources of vitamin D such as fortified milk, eggs, fish, and mushrooms. If you are relying on yogurt to get your vitamin D, be sure and check the label. Many brands of yogurt are not made with fortified milk and do not contain vitamin D.

Sodium- too much sodium in the diet can cause calcium to be leached out of our bones and excreted in the urine. Most kids eat way too much salt in a day so this can be a big problem. Remember, most of the sodium in an average child's diet comes from processed foods. Cut down on processed foods by serving more fresh, whole foods and take the salt shaker off of the table.

Soda- not only does soda hurt a child's diet by replacing milk at mealtime, it also contains phosphoric acid. It is thought that phosphoric acid can cause calcium to be leached out of bones.

And finally, not a diet recommendation but still very important:

Exercise- children need "weight-bearing" exercise to build healthy bone. Weight-bearing exercise is any exercise that involves making your body work against gravity. Examples include walking, hiking, running, and all activities that involve these skills such as playing tag.

Don't forget your own diet! It is important for adults to follow these dietary and exercise tips too. Did you know that approximately 10 million Americans older than 50 years old have osteoporosis and an additional 34 million are at risk? You can keep your bones healthy and strong for a longer period of time by taking these tips to heart.

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