Aim to eat meals that incorporate a wide variety of foods from the four main groups. These are fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta and cereals; milk and dairy products; and proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds.
This will help to provide you with all the vitamins, minerals and energy you need to live life to the full and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases too.
The ‘eatwell’ plate shows the proportion of different foods that make up well-balanced, healthy eating. It’s not essential to get a perfect balance every day but make sure you eat these proportions of the different food groups over about a week to ensure you get all the nutrients for good health, including what your bones need to stay strong. Having a mixture of foods within each food group will also ensure you consume a range of different nutrients.
Calcium and bones
Calcium is vital for teeth and bones because it gives them strength and rigidity.
Our bodies contain about 1kg of this important mineral and 99% of it is found in our bones. Most people should be able to get enough calcium through healthy eating.
How much calcium is recommended?
|0–12 months(non-breastfed infants only)
|11–18 years boys/girls
||1,000 / 800mg
||700mg + 550mg
If you are taking osteoporosis drug treatments you may benefit from a higher daily calcium intake of around 1,000mg a day.
Reference nutrient intake
The government’s advisers on nutrition set recommended daily levels of intake of nutrients, called the reference nutrient intake (RNI). 700mg of calcium is sufficient to meet the daily requirements of most of the adult population (97.5%). These advisers also recommend that an intake of calcium below 400mg is likely to be insufficient. This amount is called the lower reference nutrient intake (LRNI) and is the lowest amount of calcium required to maintain a healthy adult skeleton. Do not worry if your calcium intake does not quite reach the RNI of 700mg a day; it is the average daily amount that is important. A low calcium intake on one day, when most days you achieve the right amount, will not have a detrimental effect on your bone strength
I am a vegan. Will this cause problems for my bones?
If you don’t eat dairy products, you will need to include lots of other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruit, pulses, fortified soya drinks and soya protein (tofu) in your diet. A vegetarian diet is not a risk factor for osteoporosis and vegetarians and vegans do not appear to have poorer bone health than the rest of the population. For more information contact the Vegan Society or the Vegetarian Society.
I am lactose intolerant. How can I get more calcium into my diet?
Some people cannot tolerate lactose, the natural sugar found in milk, because they don’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose. When undigested lactose passes through the system unabsorbed, it will ferment in the large intestine, causing stomach cramps, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people find they can tolerate small amounts. Lactose intolerance affects 5–10% of North Europeans and North Americans of European origin. This figure may be as high as 90% in some Asian, African and Caribbean populations. If you are lactose intolerant, make sure you enjoy plenty of non-dairy calcium-rich foods such as pilchards, sardines, curly kale, watercress, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed spread). You could also choose fortified foods, such as water, soya milk or bread with added calcium as seen below
Can eating fortified foods help?
Supermarket shelves are increasingly filled with supplemented foods that claim to be good for you because they are fortified with vitamins and minerals. They may prove a convenient way of improving your intake of specific nutrients such as vitamin D. But remember, it’s a well-balanced diet that provides a range of nutrients to keep bones strong, not just one added mineral or vitamin.