What do you lose when you drink lots of soda pop, eat plenty of sugar and saturated fat, little fiber, and plenty of tasty salt? You lose bone density.
What's worse, by avoiding the list of dietary no-no's, and taking a regular calcium supplement, you can still be losing bone density!
You may think you're eating healthily, and you may be taking at least 1,000 mg of calcium every day, but you just might be at an increased risk of osteoporosis, with a frightening potential for degeneration of bone mass (usually from the hip and lower spine.)
The fact is, far too many people—women and men alike—have a calcium absorption disorder. Even with a daily calcium supplement, unless the body actually absorbs the calcium supplement into the bone, it doesn't do any good. In fact, consuming a calcium supplement without proper bone-absorption, can be dangerous, because even though your body can excrete some of the well-intentioned calcium, your body can also store calcium in other places where it shouldn't be kept. The human body can actually become toxic with calcium, mainly from mal-absorbed calcium supplementation, while the bones continue to shrink.
So what should you do to protect your bones? Should you even be taking a daily calcium supplement?
First things first: A healthy adult loses about 500 milligrams of calcium each day, because your body takes this amount of calcium naturally from your bones and places it into your bloodstream to be used by your body. It's just the way it is. Therefore, it makes sense to take in at least 500 milligrams of daily calcium to replace this natural leaching effect. For most people, it can be difficult to consume 500+ milligrams of calcium in their daily diet, so it is very wise to include a calcium supplement into the mix.
So how can you make the absolute most from the calcium you consume through the foods you eat, and through calcium supplementation?
Basically, you need to reduce and/or eliminate the substances that are blocking your absorption of calcium. You may be thinking, okay, simple enough, give me the how-to 1, 2, 3's!
1: Salt vs. calcium.... the salt wins, you lose bone. You must reduce your salt intake. Salt and calcium compete with each other to get absorbed into the small intestine. If you eat too much salt, your calcium will make a beeline right into your colon and out of your body. Some calcium will go into your blood and attract water, so your kidneys work overtime to flush it out as urine, taking with it even more calcium and minerals needed by your body for good health.
Become salt-savvy. Read labels for sodium content. Seek out natural salt substitutes and use herbs and spices for flavoring. Look for foods that are unsalted or with no added salt. Sodium free or salt free should have less than five mg per serving. Very low sodium should have 35 mg of sodium or less per serving. Low sodium should have 140 mg of sodium or less per serving. You get the idea. (Bonus: your blood pressure, heart, liver and kidneys will thank you.) Know that over time, tastebuds can become dependent on salt for flavor, so you may have to wean your tongue from that needed taste. To improve your chances of kicking the salt habit, try reducing the use over several weeks, with 'zero salt tolerance' being your ultimate goal.
2: Pop! Goes Your Bones! Soda pop has two things going against it—or against you—sugar (or a sugar substitute) and phosphoric acid. Sorry, but if you're a regular pop drinker, you probably have a calcium absorption problem. It's that simple. Too much sugar can cause insulin resistance, making your insulin levels too high, and insulin is a huge calcium robber. Excess insulin yanks healthy bone material out of your bones and drops it into your soft tissues where it can cause harm—and prohibits your bones from absorbing the calcium from your food and your supplements. Giving up sugar is vital to your bones. And the phosphoric acid... well, with a pH level of 2.8, that's what creates the carbonation and fizz, hence the name “pop.” Most high school science classes will experiment by soaking a steak in a bowl of cola, and watching as it disappears in two days! Try it—and think of what this could be doing to your bones.
Get in the habit of reaching for water instead. Add flavor with slices of fruit or mix in a splash of juice. Experiment with iced black tea and green tea; flavors such as raspberry, peppermint and chamomile satisfy a sweet tooth, promote weight loss, provide added health benefits, and naturally hydrate your cells. Remember, there are natural sweeteners like stevia and agave. Each provides the sweetness of nature, but without the dangers of sugar and artificial sweeteners.
3: Pump it Up! You guessed it: resistance training is the best way to build bone. Twice a week for 45 minutes. Regardless of your age—or because of your age!—lifting weights is your ticket to healthy bones and increased calcium absorption. Studies show that regular weight lifting increases bone mass in the hips and lower spine, areas often the victims of bone loss and bone fractures.
Simple hand- and leg-weights are all that's needed to give your bones that added boost. Or join a gym and get the added benefit of guidance and inspiration from a staff trainer. And guess what? Your mood (and maybe your loved ones) will thank you! When you regularly lift weights, your mood gets lifted too. Strength training has been shown to help ease depression and be a dynamic mood enhancer. Bonus: an improved body and an improved body image—and increased socialization by meeting new people if you go to a gym.
A vital connection has finally been seen linking calcium consumption with calcium absorption. By proactively avoiding salt and sugar, and including regular resistance training, you set the stage for your body to absorb the calcium you need from your foods and calcium supplements. Foods that are naturally high in calcium are yogurt, figs, tofu, eggs, dairy, and all of the glorious dark green vegetables, like kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach.
Speaking of spinach, an old French proverb calls it, “The broom of the stomach.” Spinach sweeps away cholesterol and helps flush the body of saturated fat. Keep a huge bag of baby spinach on hand. Toss handfuls into just about any recipe, preferably at the last minute. Add to rice as it nears completion; throw a handful into a low-sodium canned soup for lunch; heap it onto a hot non-stick pan sprayed with olive oil, toss with a few drops of balsamic vinegar—it'll shrink into just a few delicious servings. (Don’t forget to add some nuts for added nutrients and crunch.) Use raw spinach in lieu of lettuce on sandwiches, roll-ups and wraps. And of course, it's always great in a salad. Spinach is loaded with bone-loving calcium and naturally reduces excess cholesterol.
Studies have shown that people with high cholesterol have fewer cells that work to build bone density. Bone health is a continual process of bone breakdown and bone build-up, so it's up to you to give your bones what they need to rebuild themselves—and avoid what prevents calcium absorption. Eat with your bones in mind. Intentionally choose foods that offer nutrients necessary for bone health. Cultivate a dietary awareness through purposefully eating foods that work with your body, not against it. Know what your food is doing for you and to you.
So what do you get when you combine smart food choices and eating with intention? You get great health and strong bones to escort you through a long and vibrant life!