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U of I study: Before you start bone-building meds, try dietary calcium and supplements

milligrams of calcium a day. Three glasses of 1 percent to skim milk will get you up to 900 milligrams. The rest can easily be obtained through calcium-rich and calcium-fortified foods," Plawecki said.

According to Plawecki, the number of foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D is increasing exponentially. Examples are soy milk, orange juice, yogurt, crackers, cereal, bread, breakfast bars, and even pancakes.

The researchers also looked at the effects of dietary protein, vitamin K, soy, and sodium in their literature review. The new USDA food pyramid guidelines recommend that Americans decrease their sodium intake.

"Following a low-sodium diet does seem to have a positive effect on bone density. Some people have the habit of adding a generous sprinkle of salt to most foods before eating, but there's more involved here than learning not to do that. You have to choose different foods," Plawecki said.

Smoked or processed meats, bacon, lunch meat, and processed foods all contain a lot of sodium and could sabotage bone health. "Cheese is also very high in sodium so try to get your calcium some other way more often," Plawecki said.

She recommends a "portfolio diet" that contains a number of nutrients, not just extra calcium and vitamin D. For bone health, the researchers also encourage consuming adequate protein, less sodium, and more magnesium and potassium.

"That can be done by following a diet that's high in fruits and vegetables, has adequate calcium and protein, and is light on salt," she said.

Chapman-Novakofski noted that the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends more physical activity. She suggests a combination of aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises with a focus on improving your core muscles so you can catch yourself if you start to fall.

Whatever sort of exercise you're doing, you have to introduce new forms of activity every so often because your bones will stop

Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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