We ask nutritionist Sarah O’Neill for the best foods to keep our bones and joints healthy and ward off skeletal problems
With skeletal problems such as osteoporosis affecting three million people in the UK, it’s becoming more important to look after our bone health.
As we age, we lose calcium and other minerals from our bones and this causes our bone density to reduce, with bones become thinner and more brittle. The menopause can lead to women being even more vulnerable, as the drop in oestrogen during the process causes the bones to weaken.
Weight-bearing exercises such as weight-training, jogging, climbing stairs and tennis can offset the problem, as they help to increase our storage of calcium – the mineral that helps to strengthen the bone structure. Eating calcium-rich foods also has a huge impact on our bone health.
700mg calcium a day is the recommended amount for all adults, increasing to 1,200mg for post-menopausal women. Nutritionist and personal trainer Sarah O’Neill shares 7 of the best sources…
Not just for vegetarians and vegans, tofu is an excellent source of calcium – about 200mg in a 60g serving. Don’t like the wobbly texture? Try scrambling soft tofu with courgette, mushrooms, peppers and some ground spices for a delicious high-protein, low-fat dish. Or buy the firm variety and toss it into your stir-fry.
2. Edamame or soya beans
Edamame beans are packed with 200mg calcium per serving. Buy them at the supermarket (you can buy them frozen, too) for a great snack on the go.
3. Bony fish
Fish such as sardines, pilchards and canned salmon contain up to a third of our daily calcium needs – the tiny, edible bones are a great calcium source. They also provide a boost of omega 3s for brain and heart health and will help you with your vitamin D intake, which is necessary for us to absorb calcium. Try serving with a green salad, or stuffed into a pitta with leaves and cucumber.
This veg is also known as ladies’ fingers because of its long shape. Often used in African stews or Asian dishes, okra has a similar taste and texture to aubergine and a serving contains around 82mg calcium. You’ll find it in most international supermarkets. Try it in a curry or soup – the longer you cook it, the gooier the texture!
5. Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, bok choi and spring greens provide both high levels of calcium (around 245mg in a serving of kale), and plenty of vitamin K and folate – key for bone strength. Try steaming lightly alongside fish or chicken seasoned with spices or citrus.
6. Milk, cheese and yogurt
Unsurprisingly, dairy products are the richest and best-known source of calcium. A serving of yogurt, cheese or milk provides between 150-250mg of it. Skimmed milk contains more calcium than whole – but have it without your cuppa every now and again as caffeine can reduce calcium absorption. Hard cheeses contain more calcium than soft, with parmesan top of the leaderboard.
7. Calcium-fortified foods
There are a range of calcium-fortified products on the market including cereals, breads and drinks such as orange juice – look out for the labels! For those on dairy-free diets, oat, rice and soya milks tend to be fortified with calcium too.
And don’t forget to dose up on vitamin D…
Vitamin D is needed for our bodies to absorb calcium, and the best source is sunlight. Being outside in the warmer months three times a week for just 15 minutes should be enough for most people. The NHS now advises that elderly and pregnant and breastfeeding women might consider taking a 10mcg supplement of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months.
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