Nutrition for Bone Health

Calcium
When you think bone health, what is the first nutrient you think of? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you said Calcium! Yep, calcium is crucial for bone health. It is the key component of hydroxyapatite, which makes of the mineral matrix that keeps you teeth and bones sturdy and strong. Our bones are also constantly breaking down and building up – and in order to properly build, they need adequate amounts of calcium. This “adequate amount” ranges from 1,000mg- 1,300mg per day depending on age and gender and mainly comes from dairy products, almonds, leafy greens, tofu, beans, lentils, and some fish fish.

Vitamin D
Now, while calcium is the key component in bone, it pretty much is no good without its partner in crime, vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption, so no matter how much calcium you eat (or drink), your body isn’t absorbing much of it if you lack vitamin D. Vitamin also helps in that bone remodeling (breakdown and building) process I mentioned.

Vitamin D has become a pretty hot nutrition topic recently. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is on the verge of becoming a global public health issue. Why? Well, if you are reading this post right now, you are likely sitting inside staring at a computer or phone screen as opposed to soaking up the sun’s UV rays. Our primary source of vitamin D comes from the sun so the decreased time spend outdoors and the increased use of sunscreen that have been seen around the globe are causing vitamin D deficiency rates shoot through the roof!

There are a few food sources of vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, some fatty fish, and mushrooms, but these can’t really provide enough to meet our need of 600-800 IU per day (and most people need up to 2,000 IU per day if they are deficient).

Exercise
The final key player in bone health isn’t a nutrient; it is exercise!- specifically weight-baring exercise. Simply carrying the weight of your skeleton in activities like walking, running, jumping, and stair climbing all help in that formation of strong bones. Not to mention, exercise improves strength and balance, which can help decrease risk of falls and broken bones.

Other Nutrients
In addition to these top three, researches have also found that low vitamin C and vitamin K levels also put people at risk of poor bone mineralization. On the other hand, people who had diets high in fruits and vegetables were found to have stronger bones… just one of the millions of reasons to eat more fruits and veggies!

Controversy
A few studies have found that high calcium intake, greater than the recommended daily intake doesn’t provide any additional benefit when it comes to bone mineral density. There have also been associations between high calcium intake (especially from supplements) and heart disease risk. Moral of the story- more calcium isn’t always better.

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Micros and Macros

In this post, I thought I would take it back to some basics: micronutrients (the little guys) and macronutrients (the big guys).

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are all your vitamins and minerals, like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin E – just to name a few. They are called micronutrients because you only need a little bit of them each day. Your fruits and vegetables are packed with tons of these, but they are also in lots of other foods.

Micronutrients are responsible for things like eye sight, bone health, thyroid function, blood pressure, and many, many more.

Right now, on the nutrition fact labels you will always see vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. That is because back in 1990’s when the label was designed, those were the nutrients that people often did not get enough of. Now, you may know that there is a new nutrition fact panel coming out, which will be mandatory for manufacturers to use by 2021. On this label you will see vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium since these are the micronutrients that most people are low on now.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are your carbs (including sugar and fiber), proteins, and fats. They are called macronutrients because – you guessed it – you need large amounts of them each day. Protein rich foods include fish, animal meats, and soy products (like tofu and tempeh). Fats come from foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, oils, and butter. Carbs come from grains (quinoa, bulgur, rye, rice, wheat) and foods made from grains like bread and pasta, corn, peas, and fruits. There are also lots of “combination foods” like beans, eggs, and cheese that provide a good mix of 2 or 3 of these macronutrients.

Macronutrients are our main sources of energy, growth, and building blocks for muscles.

Why does this matter?

Micro and macronutrients are both crucial for survival. We can’t live healthfully if any single one within these two groups is missing. I wanted to talk about this because many food products market themselves as “healthy” because they have extra whole grain or protein. For example, I love Kodiak Cake pancakes, which are “protein packed” and made with 100% whole grains. While it is great to have a little extra protein and whole grains these pancakes don’t have many micronutrients. Now think about broccoli and carrots – super healthy right? Yes, they may be packed full of micronutrients but they have very few macronutrients.

See – that’s why variety is important and eating only vegetables all day isn’t really a good thing. There is no single food that can provide all the nutrients we need. Mix things up, try new foods, and maximize your nutrient intake!

Lemon Chia Muffins

Two years in the books! I am not quite sure what I expected when I started blogging, but I never imagined that I would keep it up for this long (I honestly thought it might be one of those novelties that is cool at first but wears off). Either way, I have really enjoyed writing about my food and nutrition experiences.

Just like last year, I thought I would share healthy and lemony recipe to celebrate: Lemon Chia Muffins. Testing out this recipe was just a little more exciting than any other recipe I’ve made. Why, you ask? Because it was the very first thing I ever cooked/baked in my very own apartment! Technically my Blogiversary is August 1, but I was a little busy moving back to Cleveland. There are lots of “firsts” for me this month: first apartment, first day of my Dietetic Internship, and first day of grad school so I am sure I will have lots to share.

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Anyways, back to the muffins. They are packed with tons of nutrients that you wouldn’t find in your typical sugar-filled muffins. The whole wheat flour provides more protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium than white flour. That being said, baking with whole wheat flour makes cakes and muffins a lot more dense and chewy (I thought these tasted great with this texture but it is not your typical crumbly muffin). The chia seeds also pack in some fiber and the Greek yogurt adds protein and calcium.

Each muffin comes in at about 140 calories, only 1g of fat, and 6g of protein (that’s the same as 1-2 egg whites- but tastes much better!).

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Trying New Foods

I love exploring and trying new things, especially when it comes to food. In some of my other posts I have talked about how I love going to the grocery store—it is so exciting for to see what new products I can find and new foods I can try. Going to restaurants is always a struggle because I always want to try everything on the menu.

When it comes to nutrition, trying new things is a good habit to have. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. Adding variety increases the types of nutrients you get. Eating the same 5 fruits and vegetables isn’t bad, but it also means that you are missing out on the nutrients you can get from other kinds of fruits and veggies. Try eating a variety of different colors- different color fruits and veggies provide different types of vitamins and minerals. This goes for whole grains and low-fat dairy products as well.
  2. You might eventually learn to like something. We have all heard that you have to try a food 8-12 times before you know if you really dislike it. That’s because our natural instinct is to dislike unfamiliar foods. Our first impression is often wrong so try something at least a few times before you give it an official ruling.
  3. You might find something you didn’t know you liked. What do you have to lose? If you never try you will never know if you like it!
  4. For the world travelers like me, it makes traveling is easier. The more foods you like and the more you are willing to try, the easier it is to find things to eat in foreign countries. Plus you get to experience the local food culture instead of relying on a suitcase full of protein bars. (When I studied abroad, one of my friends was very picky so finding a place to eat was a big challenge and often took several hours of research.)
  5. It sets a good example for kids. If you spend any time around kids, you know that they want to follow your every move. If they see you eating all different kinds of foods, they are more likely to do the same.

If trying new foods is not your thing, start small. Instead of trying completely new foods, try preparing some of your favorites with new seasonings or toppings. Buying one new vegetable per week and adding it to your dinner is also a small, realistic step to expanding your palate.

While I am really good at spending hours in the grocery store finding new types of nut butter, fancy snack bars, and unique fruits and vegetables I have gotten pretty lazy about trying new recipes. So, my goal for the rest of the semester is to print off two new recipes to try each week. Hopefully I’ll make some yummy, new things to share with you!

What is your goal for trying new foods?

Eating Seasonally

With spring in full swing (aside from the short snow-fall today in Denmark!) farmers markets and grocery stores all around Copenhagen are starting to display their brightest and juiciest produce. Everything from strawberries to watermelons are at the very front of the store just waiting for you to give into the fruity deliciousness you have missed all winter. I’m not joking when I say “missed”. Here, in Denmark, it is pretty difficult to find produce that isn’t grown in Denmark (or at least in a nearby country). The Danes are very supportive of local farmers and only eating fruits and vegetables that are in season. That means for pretty much all of the winter, you can only find things like apples, oranges, and plums. Grapes, kiwis, and especially berries are pretty much impossible to find during the colder months. While I have definitely missed some of natures candy during my last three months in Denmark, there are lots of perks to eating only fruits and vegetables that are in season. Here are some that I have discovered since living here and talking to the Danes:

  1. Environment- This fits in well with yesterday’s celebration of Earth Day. Eating seasonally and locally is good for the environment! It eliminates the need for truck and airplane shipping pollution, refrigeration, green house operations, and chemical/pesticide use. When I go grocery shopping, the environment is one of the last things I think about (I usually focus on cost and taste), but it is important to remember that the environment plays a big role in the food we eat and our overall health.
  2. Taste- When fruits and vegetables are grown with real sunlight (not artificial lamps and greenhouses), the produce grows with much more flavor and fruits are much sweeter.
  3. Cost- When a food is in season, there is usually an abundance of it. We all know from high school econ that that means price goes down. Also, local and season foods don’t come from miles away so that eliminates the shipping costs of the product. Farmers markets are a great way to cash in on some cheap, yet high quality produce.
  4. Variety- Although it is sad to not have any strawberries for the entire winter, it makes springtime that much more exciting when they appear in the stores. Eating seasonal produce also encourages you to try some new fruits and vegetables you might not otherwise try. You have to make do with what is available!
  5. Nutrients- Every minute after a fruit or vegetable is picked from the ground, it loses nutrient content. Therefore, the shorter the “farm to table” time is, the more nutrients that will be available to fuel your body.

Obviously, living in northern climates does not allow us to eat 100% seasonal, but something is better than nothing. Try choosing 2-3 items that you will only buy when they are in season. If you are up for a challenge, you can always try more!