Building strong bones is a life-long project. Our bones get strong and stay strong through a combination of food and fitness. Building and maintaining a healthy skeleton is a process that begins before birth and one that must continue through every decade of life.
The smartest way to healthy bones is daily doses of nutrient-rich foods and weight-bearing physical activities, along with avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
Nutrient-rich dairy foods containing calcium and other bone-building nutrients help build strong bones (to prevent osteoporosis); help lower blood pressure (to prevent heart disease and stroke); and help maintain a healthy weight.
Enjoy 3 cups of milk (or the equivalent) and other calcium-rich foods every day, as recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and "My Plate" (www.choosemyplate.gov). Dairy foods (fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese) are a tasty, easy way to meet your daily need for 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium. Other calcium-rich sources include fortified juice, canned salmon and sardines, broccoli and green leafy vegetables.
Lifetime bone health requires other nutrients, such as protein, vitamins C and D, magnesium, phosphorus and other minerals. The nutrient-rich eating plan outlined on ChooseMyPlate.gov is designed for strong bones and strong muscles to support them. The smartest dairy choices give you lots of nutrients (protein, vitamins A, B12, and D, calcium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and riboflavin) for few calories when you select fat-free and low-fat dairy foods.
When choosing dairy foods with more fat (hard cheeses such as cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss), be smart with your portion size. All it takes is 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese (or 1/3 cup shredded cheese) to equal one of your 3-A-Day dairy servings (www.3aday.org).
Get energized with dairy snack treats. Quick and easy, dairy foods such as string cheese or a portable yogurt, are delightful ways to satisfy your snack cravings and energize your day. What something sweet? Pick up fat-free or low-fat chocolate milk.
If you are lactose intolerant, small servings of lactose-free dairy foods are the best choice. Yogurt with active cultures and hard cheese slices make yummy snacks or you can take the enzyme lactase (in pills or drops) before consuming milk products.
Enjoy fun physical activity every day. To maintain their strength, bones require daily stimulation with weight bearing activity, like walking, basketball, biking, dancing, or water-aerobics classes.
Every member of your family needs nutrition and physical activity to stand tall. When kids see adults drinking milk and being active, they'll want to do the same healthy things. Maintaining healthy bones is all about a healthy lifestyle. All it takes is plenty of delicious nutrient-rich foods, plenty of fun physical activity and avoiding cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
For more about the important roles of nutrition and fitness in maintaining bone health at all ages, go to the website of the National Osteoporosis Foundation: www.nof.org; search for bone health at Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov and National Dairy Council www.nationaldairycouncil.org.
Lynn Little is an educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.