Osteoporosis is concerning for many women, especially post-menopause. It can also affect men later in life.

Osteoporosis is not a normal part of aging; it is a metabolic disease altering the density and quality of bone leading to higher risk for fractures and associated complications, including pain, loss of independence and decreased quality of life.

Medication is the primary management tool for osteoporosis, while lifestyle is integral in prevention.

May is National Osteoporosis Month and the perfect time to highlight an often overlooked condition affecting millions of Americans. As a VA Registered Dietitian, I’d encourage you to keep the risk of osteoporosis on your radar.

Diet and lifestyle tips for strong bones:

  • Try increasing fruits and vegetables to 5 servings daily.

    Calcium (1200mg/day for women aged 51+ and men aged 71+, 1000mg/day men aged 50-70): We continuously break down and rebuild bone, making calcium crucial for bone building throughout life. Milk and yogurt, at about 300mg/serving, are excellent sources. If choosing milk substitutes, like almond or soy, look for those fortified with calcium. Nondairy sources, such as greens or fortified foods, can provide 50-200mg calcium/serving.

  • Vitamin D (800-1000IU/d adults aged 50+): Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption. Daily sun exposure and foods like fatty fish and fortified milk are recommended. Many adults have a vitamin D deficiency requiring supplementation. Have your levels checked before starting a supplement.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin K, and potassium, fruits and vegetables provide micronutrients needed for healthy bones.
  • Protein: Adequate protein, such as 5-6oz lean meat or legumes, helps maintain muscle mass and bone health. Milk and yogurt not only contain calcium but are also good sources of protein. Excess protein or high sodium processed meats can increase urine calcium loss.
  • Sodium: Limit to 2300mg/day or less. High salt foods, primarily in packaged, processed and restaurant foods, can lead to calcium loss in urine. Cheese is a good source of calcium but is high in sodium; eat it in moderation.
  • Weight-bearing activities: All exercise is great for health, but you need weight bearing activities like walking, jogging and dancing for bone strengthening. Aim for at least 30 minutes each day or try reaching 10,000 steps daily. Check your local VA for exercise programs. Any movement is better than none!
  • Strength and balance: Strong muscles equal strong bones. Good balance and flexibility help reduce risk for injury and fall. Try including exercises with resistance bands, body weight, dumbbells, tai chi and yoga at least 2 to 3 days/week.

More information

The USDA MyPlate website is great for exploring different food groups, associated benefits, and foods to target throughout different life stages. Not sure what or how to prepare some of the foods above?

VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen is a great resource. For further information contact your local VA to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian to help keep those bones in top shape.

Courtney Reynolds is a Veteran and an outpatient dietitian at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center, providing nutrition education and counseling to Veterans to help them achieve their health goals.

Share this story

Published on May. 22, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.7 min.

Views to date: 665

More Stories

  • Housebound Veterans are winners when they combine virtual and in-home health care visits. Susan Gallagher receives hybrid care, both virtual and in-person.

  • In 2022, VA set a goal to house 38,000 homeless Veterans. With only a few months to go, how are we doing?

  • Under the PACT Act, Vietnam era, Gulf War era, and Post-9/11 Veterans have extended eligibility for VA health care.