What’s the link between dairy foods and bone health?
What’s the link between dairy foods and bone health? Think of your skeleton as the framework of a house: Once it’s in place, you don’t expect it to change.
But our bones are living tissue, so our bodies are constantly producing new tissue and disposing of the old. As we grow up, we make more tissue than we discard, but we soon reach ‘peak bone mass’ — the time when the body has the most bone tissue it will ever produce. Different areas of bone reach peak bone mass at different times, but by our early 20s, the body has achieved roughly 90 per cent, and by the time we’re in our 30s, it’s done. After that, we gradually lose bone tissue. And as we know, people with poor bone density are more likely to develop osteoporosis as they age.
Osteoporosis affects at least 600,000 Australians, and, unfortunately, its risk rises as we age. One in two women and one in four men over the age of 60 will suffer a fracture as a result of a reduction in bone mass and density during their lifetime.
To enjoy healthy bones throughout life, we first need to achieve the best peak bone mass that we can when we’re young, and then to ensure we lose as little of our bone tissue as possible in the following years. Dairy products, especially milk, help, because they’re a rich, easily absorbed source of calcium, which is essential to the continual process of building bone.
It’s easy to include dairy in our diets, yet many of us don’t consume as much calcium as we need for strong bones — and calcium is relatively scarce in other food groups. The problem is that more than 60 per cent of Australian women consume less than the recommended dietary intake for calcium.
The simple solution is to eat more reduced-fat dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. If you choose not to consume dairy, for whatever reason, you need to consciously ensure you’re getting enough calcium from other sources, such as canned fish with edible bones, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and calcium-fortified soy and rice milks.