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Dear FitMamaEats: Feed My Bones!

Dear FitMamaEats:

Can you give some info on bone health? Many of my friends have osteoporosis and can't tolerate Fosamax. I have osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) and take Viactiv calcium supplements, which taste like real caramels! Are they ok to use instead of regular calcium pills? I know about milk and yogurt—what else has a lot of calcium? I've also heard vitamin D is important. I think that since we live in the north, we get less vitamin D from sunshine. Is there another way to get it, other than moving to Florida, which doesn't sound too bad right now! Do weight-bearing exercises help much?

Feeble Bones

Dear Feeble Bones:

More than half of Americans 50 years and older have osteoporosis, a condition of porous bones that become fragile and susceptible to fractures. There are ways to help or prevent this condition at any age:

Calcium.  The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that both men and women 19-50 years old get 1000 mg of calcium daily, and 1200 mg over 50 years of age. You know about dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, which are the richest sources of calcium, but you can also find the mineral in canned sardines or salmon (with the bones), green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, and turnip greens, as well as a growing number of calcium-fortified products like orange juice and cereals. Some people still don't eat enough calcium and may need supplements. The two common forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both are absorbed well, but people with low levels of stomach acid can absorb calcium citrate more easily. Calcium carbonate is less expensive and easier to find (it's found in TUMS and Viactiv chews). Whereas you should take calcium carbonate with food to improve its absorption, you can take calcium citrate on an empty stomach. With either type, taking too much at one time can lower absorption. So, for example, if you use two 500 mg pills a day, take one in the morning and one in the evening.

Vitamin D.  This mineral has been making headlines lately, with early research suggesting a protective effect against certain cancers and diabetes. However, its role in bone health is definite, aiding the absorption of calcium and promoting bone growth. Many of us may not be getting enough, particularly if you live in northern climates where the sun is not as strong certain months of the year, and because most of us now regularly use sunscreen, which lowers vitamin D absorption through the skin. Another reason is that the best food sources are probably not on our daily menus: cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, and fortified milk. Although the current recommendations for adults range from 200-400 IU daily, many experts now recommend closer to 800-1000 IU based on research findings. If you are over 50 years and have dark skin, you are at greater risk of not absorbing the vitamin effectively. It would be safe to use a supplement with at least 400 IU and eat some foods rich in vitamin D. You may want to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels with a blood test measuring 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which will show if you are deficient.

Exercise.  When bones are challenged, they get stronger. This means using a controlled weight such as your body weight, hand weights, weight machines, or resistance exercises to strengthen your bones. Low and high impact exercises like jogging, dancing, walking, hiking, and stair climbing also help to build bones. Yoga and Pilates are excellent for improving balance, posture, flexibility, and muscle strength, which can help prevent falls and fractures. Swimming, bicycling, and stretching exercises that do not use your body weight are not good for building bone; they are best used in combination with strength-building exercises. For more information on starting a strength-building regimen visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation and Tufts University's Growing Stronger program.

Other Great Resources:

National Osteoporosis Foundation: Vitamin D

National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements

Photos courtesy of whymilk.com


Two Thumbs Up for Two New Products

I know this may read like one big ad but it's just my excitement over two new food products I found in the supermarket last week, both variations on longtime favorites.

Chocolate Cheerios – Well, why not? Aside from the popular classic plain, Cheerios comes in nine other flavors like Apple Cinnamon, Banana Nut, and Yogurt Burst, so a chocolately version was inevitable. Made with naturally low fat cocoa, the nutrition content of Chocolate Cheerios isn’t too far off from the original with a few more calories and grams of sugar per serving. Although still a good source of iron, it contains less than the original (something moms of finicky toddlers might want to know since Cheerios is often a big source of their iron intake). The taste isn’t as sweet as Cocoa Puffs but has just enough cocoa to satisfy a chocolate craving and yes the milk gets chocolately! Here's a yummy prescription for that chocolate itch: add a half cup of Chocolate Cheerios to a container of Yoplait Whips Chocolate Mousse (only 225 calories and 5 grams of fat and you get a boost of calcium and protein).

Peter Pan Whipped Peanut Butter – What a great way to improve a nutritious but high fat staple: simply whip in air and you remove almost a third of the fat without sacrificing flavor. You also get a product that is remarkably lighter and easier to spread than the original. My knife literally flung out of the jar when scooping out the spread because the consistency was so much lighter than I expected, almost like that of a chocolate mousse. Nutrition-wise, Peter Pan original peanut butter has 210 calories, 17 grams fat, and 8 grams protein per serving; Peter Pan Whipped contains 150 calories, 12 grams fat, and 6 grams protein. Although I don't mind the taste of reduced fat peanut butters, they can be sticky and hard to spread. This whipped version glides easily onto thin crackers and apple slices. Keep in mind it's still a high calorie food that is very easy to overeat, so stick with the serving size of two tablespoons.


Craving Water

What’s with all these flavored vitamin waters? And why do they taste so good? I never liked the early version of fruit-enhanced waters that tasted sour. But the newer ones are sweet, yet still low in calories or calorie-free. They’re also very thirst-quenching, almost as effective as an icy Coke. To make them even more attractive to consumers, many contain fancy nutrient additives like vitamins and minerals or herbs that "soothe" or "energize." I don't care much for those extras because I can get them from food or exercise class. It's the taste I love: I had such an addiction to 10-calorie Glaceau Vitamin waters (something about them reminded me of Jello), I'd buy cases at BJs and dilute them with juice or seltzer to make them last. More recently, I'm a SoBe Lifewater fan with flavors like Yumberry Pomegranate, Cherimoya Punch, and Fuji Apple. It's great that I'm drinking more water but are these really healthy? Like diet sodas, they must be filled with artificial colors and flavors. I’m also convinced they contain an addictive substance to make me crave them so much that I'd willingly create waste by buying all these individual bottles when I could easily drink plain water out of my trusty Nalgene refillable bottle. 

After studying the ingredients, I realized they're not too terrible. Some of the ingredient names were obviously spruced up like "reverse osmosis water," in other words, filtered water! All contained low-calorie sweeteners, erythritol being the most common. Erythritol is a relatively natural sugar substitute (sugar alcohol) extracted from plants. The waters also contained some kind of gum (typically derived from the sap of trees)—gum acacia, gum arabic, or ester gum—used as natural stabilizers to keep the liquid texture smooth, and as thickeners, likely contributing to the Jello-ness I mentioned earlier. These gums are FDA-approved additives commonly found in candy, soda, and fruit drinks. I was happily surprised that the waters' coloring came from natural ingredients like beta carotene and vegetable juice extracts. Depending on the type of water, there might also be vitamins and minerals thrown in. So, overall, these waters are probably a little healthier than diet soda and a nice alternative to plain water, especially during the winter months when we need to stay hydrated but are drinking less because we don't feel as thirsty.