Strengthen Your Skeleton

Milk and other dairy is good for your bones -- read on to find out why!

“Got Milk?” exploded onto our television sets in 1993. Since then, the simple catchphrase has spawned countless spinoffs and spoofs. Those two simple words latched themselves onto pop culture and still haven’t let go, almost 20 years later.

But there’s more to the laconic query than faux-mustachioed celebs on billboards. It’s a valid question—do you got milk? Or, more the point, are you getting enough calcium?

You may have heard that calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth. But that’s not all it’s used for. The multipurpose mineral also helps tone your muscles, maintains your nerves’ ability to fire messages and plays a role in blood clotting.

So if you don’t keep a constant stream of calcium flowing through your system, your body will need to pull from what’s stored in your bones. But since your bones also need that calcium, they will start to thin and weaken, increasing your risk of fractures, breaks, and stooped posture. You’ve heard of this—it’s called osteoporosis.

Here’s a helpful graphic from Joslin’s educators, illustrating the “bone bank”:

You keep “depositing” calcium to your bones until around age 30. Staring at around age 40, bones begin to thin—in some cases, bones lose up to 10 percent of their mass each year. So if you weren’t building up your calcium deposits to begin with, you’ll deplete your stores pretty quickly.

But there’s more to the calcium cycle than eating and depositing. At a bank, you meet with a teller. In the bone bank system, that teller is vitamin D.

This “sunshine vitamin” helps your body use the calcium you consume—if you don’t get enough, your bones have trouble growing and repairing themselves. (Contrary to popular belief, you don’t soak up vitamin D directly from the suns’ rays. But getting a good dose of sunshine on your skin stimulates the production of the vitamin in your body.)

So how can you build up a reserve of these important nutrients? The easiest way to meet your body’s daily need is to get enough milk. One cup of any kind—including fortified brands of soy, rice and almond—has 300 milligrams of calcium and 100 IUs of vitamin D.  Depending on your age, that could be almost one third of your recommended daily value of calcium, and a good chunk of your necessary vitamin D.

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But if you don’t like, or can’t drink, milk there are plenty more options. Calcium sources include cheese and other dairy, collard greens, tofu with calcium sulfate, fortified juices and Total Whole Grain Cereal. And aside from sitting in the sun, you can get vitamin D from mackerel, salmon, mushrooms, and a whole suite of fortified juices and snacks. If you can’t get enough from food alone, talk to your doctor about starting on supplements.

This charts from the Joslin educators can help you figure out what you can eat to get you daily calcium and vitamin D.

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