Bone strengthening strategies for women over 50

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

The first thing one thinks about when we talk bone health is calcium. It's an essential nutrient for building and maintaining bones but it's also required for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. It's why we lose calcium over time: When there's not enough calcium from the diet, the body extracts it from the bones and deposits it elsewhere.
It's a double whammy for post-menopausal women who no longer produce the sex hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen promotes the activity of osteoblast cells that produce bone. When oestrogen levels drop, osteoblasts are unable to effectively produce bone, which means that women post menopause have to adopt some bone strengthening strategies.

Weight bearing exercise and resistance training

Firstly I should start by saying how important it is to up the ante on weight bearing and resistance training and walking is simply not enough. Evidently F45 gym classes are excellent to build muscles but if that doesn't appeal you could try tai chi, strength and balancing yoga postures or simple weight training. It's incredibly important so find the exercise that floats your boat and do it regularly!

When it comes to food and drink there are 3 nutrients to focus on and eat more of and (sadly) some things to focus on and eat less of.

The three nutrients to eat more of include calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K

Dietary calcium
Dairy foods are the easiest place to find calcium in food, however researchers from Harvard University have discovered that a high calcium diet from dairy foods alone is no guaranteed protection against osteoporosis. Calcium is just part of the story.

Calcium rich foods include dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, kefir, and cheese, but they also include hard tofu, canned salmon and sardines with bones, chia seeds, sesame seeds and tahini, and almonds. Accompany these foods with fresh herbs, vegetables and fresh and dried fruit and you have a healthy diverse intake of calcium-rich foods.

Calcium needs vitamin D to make strong bones

Vitamin D is Robin to calcium's role as Batman and they both need each other to build and protect bones. Calcium can only reach its full bone-building potential if it has enough vitamin D. Calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps the body effectively absorb calcium.

The easiest way to get vitamin D is through exposing our skin to sunlight, but since we don't do that much these days it can be found in some foods including fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, calves lives, cheese, butter and egg yolks.

K2 MK7 and Vitamin K 1

The discovery of K2 MK7 is particularly exciting for women who are less able to produce bone due to low (or no) levels of oestrogen. In the presence of calcium and vitamin D, K2-MK7 helps to mop up calcium from other parts of the body and deposit it into the bones and teeth. The best food to find high levels of K2 MK7 is from the fermented soybean-based food called natto, but it can be found in lesser amounts in certain cheeses such as Edam and Brie.

Vitamin K1 is the vitamin which helps our blood clot and it also helps our bones to retain calcium. It can be sourced easily from green leafy vegetables is the easiest place to find K1.


Phytic acid, a natural substance found in varying quantities in seeds, grains, legumes and nuts, can interfere with how well the body absorbs iron, zinc and calcium. Up until now I haven't paid much attention to the anti-nutrient mongering about phytates since most people who have a healthy well balanced diet from both plant and animal foods get sufficient nutrients and the effect of phytates is of no real concern. However as we age, and particularly for those of you who eat very little animal foods including dairy, it's worth implementing a strategy to lose phytic acid and retain the rest of the goodness from these plant foods. I can't claim to be an expert on this but I have found some information about how soaking these foods helps reduce the phytic acid on the website Food Matters which you may like to read and give it a try.

Salt, soft drinks and coffee

Studies show that postmenopausal women with a high-salt diet lose more bone minerals than other women of the same age.
Carbonated soft drinks which contain phosphoric acid and caffeine also increase calcium excretion through urine so the advice there is to cut out soft drinks altogether - at any age regardless of bone health - and reduce your intake of coffee.


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