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Fight bone loss with these nutritional 'secrets'

You may think you know everything you need to know about osteoporosis. You've been bombarded for years with the facts, the rips, the latest studies, the latest diets. You know you need to keep your bones strong and healthy. You know it affects lots of people -- more than 200 million throughout the world. You know it's the major cause of bone fractures in seniors.

But there are some things about osteoporosis you may not know. Like the fact that about 20 percent of those with the disease are men. Or that most people think they are getting plenty of calcium in their diet -- but they're wrong.

Here's some news you can use to help keep your bones strong.

Add some variety. The National Academy of Science set 1,200 mg of calcium every day as the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for people over 50. You're probably thinking, "That's a lot of milk - about three and a half cups. And I don't even like milk that much." The fact is, dairy products aren't the only good, absorbable sources of calcium.

Dr. Ann Hunt, Associate Professor of Nursing at Purdue University, says there are several other sources that many people don't know about. "Canned sardines and salmon with bones in them are great ways to get calcium in your diet. And the bones are kind of tasty and crunchy." Other bone-building foods are enriched orange juice, oysters, nuts, chickpeas, broccoli, tofu, navy beans, soybeans, collards, and turnip greens. Hunt cautions, "But don't try to get your calcium from just one of these sources. You would need to eat a huge amount of broccoli, for instance, to achieve your daily requirement. Instead, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables."

Toss a salad. Whenever you think about osteoporosis, you naturally think of calcium. But there are other nutrients just as important to good bone health, like magnesium, B6, and vitamin K.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that vitamin K deficiencies are linked to brittle bones and high fracture rates. They studied one food, in particular, containing vitamin K that really made a difference in bone density -- iceberg lettuce. This humble, leafy green, which has become less popular than more exotic types of lettuce, is an easy, healthy way to fight osteoporosis.

In the Harvard study, women who ate a cup of lettuce, which contains about 146 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, at least once a day lowered their risk of hip fracture by 45 percent. Although the RDA for vitamin K is only 90 mcg for women over 50 and 120 mcg for men over 50, this study urges people at risk to get at least 100 mcg of vitamin K a day. Experts warn that natural food sources of vitamin K, like lettuce, are fine, but if you are currently taking aspirin or another anticoagulant to fight blood clots, talk with your doctor before taking a vitamin K supplement.

In general, what experts have found is that if you're not getting enough calcium, it's likely you're not getting enough of several other important nutrients. Try to get as many vitamins and minerals as you can through whole foods. Use supplements only if you can't get enough in your diet.

Enjoy some soy. Tofu, TVP, tempeh, miso -- not your ordinary shopping list, but if you're concerned about osteoporosis, you might add some of these soy products to your pantry.

Soy protein, which comes from soybeans, is rich in bone-building calcium and isoflavones. Several studies have proven that including soy protein in your diet can increase your bones' density. Although soy doesn't seem to be able to reverse the effects of osteoporosis, it may prevent them.

Medical interest in soy was first sparked when scientists discovered how little osteoporosis occurs in Eastern countries, like China and Japan, where soy makes up a large part of the diet.

Although lower in fat, especially saturated fat, than most animal proteins, soybeans still contain 19 percent polyunsaturated fat. To keep those fat grams under control, look for low-fat soy products, like low-fat soy milk and tofu, and replace high-fat, low-fiber meats with soy-based foods. Don't just add soy products to a typical high-protein American diet. That can lead to kidney trouble.

Be aware that many experts are concerned about the connection between soy and forgetfulness discovered several years ago. The research suggests soy makes your brain age faster. While you don't have to avoid soy altogether, talk to your doctor about keeping to moderate amounts.

Be on the lookout for a man-made version of the bone-saving isoflavone found naturally in soy. Called ipriflavone, this supplement gives your body the benefits of estrogen without any of the negative side effects. It prevents bone thinning, but it doesn't cause tissue growth that can lead to breast or uterine cancer.

Beware of certain foods. Some substances in food will actually keep your body from absorbing and using the calcium your bones need to stay strong and healthy. Fiber, especially from bran and high-fiber fruits and vegetables, and oxalate, found in cranberries, chard, rhubarb, spinach, and beet leaves, are two of the culprits. Don't stop eating these nutritious foods. Just make sure you eat plenty of high- calcium foods, like eggs, beans, or milk, along with them to offset their negative effects.

Protein and sodium increase the amount of calcium your body gets rid of through your urine. So lowering the amount of both protein and sodium in your diet may help you keep more of the calcium you take in.

And if you're a coffee drinker, the caffeine in one cup of coffee can increase your daily need for calcium by 30 to 50 mg.



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