Prevent Osteoporosis & Protect Your Bones
November 11, 2013
By Cassie Lazar-Walsh
Prevent Osteoporosis & Protect Your Bones
The skeleton is not only designed for structural support and protection of our organs, it is also a reservoir of calcium storage.

So what is calcium and why is it needed in our bodies?

Calcium is involved in many bodily functions including strengthening our bones & teeth, muscular contractions, maintaining normal acid-base balance, cardiac function and maintaining blood calcium levels. Calcium must be acquired through food as it cannot be made by the body.

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder that compromises bone strength and can lead to an increased risk of fracture. Both the density and the quality of the bones are reduced in this condition. Common fractures occur in the spine, hip and wrist and are painful and disabling. Approximately 10% of the Australian population has osteoporosis and of those people, 75% are women.

How can you assess your bone mineral density?

A commonly used test called a 'DEXA scan' is often used to test for osteoporosis, measuring your bone mineral density. However, bone density decreases with age and can often decrease much faster than predicted by a DEXA scan. Rather than expose yourself to a dose of radiation, you are much better off making dietary changes now.

The bad news about osteoporosis – because our body uses calcium for many other functions, if our blood calcium levels are low we will start to use up our calcium stores from our bones. This means our bones slowly begin to weaken as we lose our calcium storage! And… the first sign of osteoporosis is usually when a fracture occurs! By this stage it is too late and your bones cannot be replenished!

What are the risk factors that we can modify to avoid osteoporosis?

  • Smoking: decreases bone density
  • Inadequate dietary calcium and vitamin D deficiency
  • Low BMI: a BMI of less than 22 will increase your fracture risk!
  • Alcohol abuse: risks of fracture and osteoporosis increase if you consume more than 2 standard drinks every day
  • Excessive caffeine – promotes calcium excretion
  • Eating white sugar – sugar can inhibit calcium absorption
  • Consuming phosphates (most commonly found in carbonated drinks)
Protective factors:
  • Physical Activity - especially weight-bearing activities
  • Sunlight exposure (vitamin D) – aim for 10-15 minutes in summer and 15-30 minutes in winter!
  • Vitamin D food sources – oily fish, liver and eggs
  • Vitamin K: has a role in bone formation and mineralization
  • Eat your green leafy vegetables, fruits and vegetable oils for a good source of vitamin K!
  • Calcium intake – consumption of dairy products has been associated with a higher bone mineral density and is protective against osteoporosis!
  • Adults 19-50 years should have 1000mg of calcium per day!
  • For females aged 51-70 years, 1300mg of calcium is needed per day and 1000mg for men.
  • Children under 12 months need 200-250mg of calcium (which can be absorbed through breast milk), children aged 1 to 8 need 700-1000mg while the 9 to 18 year olds need 1200-1400mg per day.
  • Both men and women over the age of 70 years need 1300mg of calcium per day! This is because as you age, your risk of osteoporosis increases, so you need to replace the calcium lost by consuming it in your diet!
  • Remember that the body can only absorb a maximum of 500mg of calcium at a time so 1000mg calcium supplements won’t supply your body with all the calcium it needs.
What does 1000mg of calcium look like?

Here are some of the top sources of calcium:

1 small can sardines (90g) = 486mg calcium
¼ cup sesame seeds = 350 mg calcium
1 glass of full cream milk = 304mg calcium
1 Tub of yoghurt (200g) = 370mg calcium
2 slices of cheese (40g) = 320 mg calcium
1 cup goat's milk = 325 mg calcium
1 cup soy milk = 309mg calcium
1 cup spinach (boiled) = 245 mg calcium
1 cup collard greens (boiled) = 226 mg calcium
1 small can red salmon (90g) = 279mg calcium
1 cup silver beet = 164mg calcium
¼ cup almonds = 95mg calcium
1 orange = 52mg calcium
1 slice whole meal bread = 30mg calcium
½ cup tofu = 415mg calcium
1 can chickpeas (200g) = 90mg calcium
1 can soybeans = 106mg calcium
1 cup kale (boiled) = 93 mg calcium
1 cup broccoli (steamed) = 75 mg calcium
1 cup green beans = 58 mg calcium
2 teaspoons ground basil = 63 mg calcium
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon = 55 mg calcium
3 cloves garlic = 51 mg calcium

Don't forget that in order to absorb calcium, your body also needs magnesium and vitamin D.

So prevent osteoporosis and keep your bones strong and healthy today!

Cassie Lazar-Walsh is a Human Nutrition student at La Trobe University, majoring in Human Physiology. You can get in touch with Cassie through her Facebook page or email her at
"Our bones slowly begin to weaken as we lose our calcium storage. Calcium must be acquired through food as it cannot be made by the body."