Healthy Tahoe: Osteoporosis and what you eat |

Healthy Tahoe: Osteoporosis and what you eat

Lynn Norton, RDN
Lynn Norton

Many put off thinking about osteoporosis, thinking they are too young or healthy and have never broken a bone. In reality, after age 30, bone mass begins to decline in both men and women.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease which can cause debilitating pain and skeletal deformation later in life. The good news? In some cases, osteoporosis can be preventable with appropriate eating, exercise, and potentially, vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Our bodies’ skeletal framework is an amazing feat of engineering — our bones allow us to stand and walk, they protect our insides (vital organs like heart and lungs), their marrow produces our red blood cells, and they are major storage for some minerals, like calcium. 

Calcium provides density and strength for our bones. And our bones act as a ‘bank account’ for calcium. During the first 30 years of life, calcium is deposited, but around age 30, we begin to see withdrawals, or a loss of calcium from our bones, taken to be utilized elsewhere within our body.

Our peak bone mass is mostly determined by our calcium intake, activity level, and weight leading up to age 30. Things like consuming alcohol, smoking, and insufficient exercise can inhibit calcium absorption and cause bones to deteriorate faster.

So, what can you do? Our bone ‘bank account’ works best with modest, consistent additions—taking high doses of calcium supplements doesn’t work and may cause kidney stones or other harmful effects. Instead start early, with focus on making sustainable changes, including.

Calcium supplements: If you are under 50 years of age, 1000 milligrams of calcium a day is recommended, increasing to 1,200 mg daily for women over 50 and men over 70.

Non-supplement forms of calcium include milk products, calcium-fortified milk substitutes, calcium-fortified cereals and juice, soy products such as tofu, dark leafy green vegetables, canned salmon, or sardines with the bones. Total calcium intake from diet and supplements is safest if it does not exceed 2000 mg daily for adults. Type, timing, and taking with or without certain foods, affects absorption. Too much calcium from less absorbable supplements can lead to kidney stones and other complications.

Vitamin D supplements: Depending on your age, around 600-800 international units of Vitamin D is recommended per day. Dietary sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, and Vitamin D-fortified milk, milk substitutes, yogurts, and cereals. Sunlight activates Vitamin D in our skin, but can be affected by where you live, your skin color, and how much sunscreen you wear. Vitamin D supplements up to 4000 IU are considered safe for most people.

Exercise: Weight-bearing and strength-training exercises are important to build and maintain bone density and strength. Weight-bearing exercises include hiking, jogging, and stair climbing, and strength-training exercises include movement against gravity/resistance like weight lifting, exercise bands, and body weight exercises.

Bone density testing: This low exposure x-ray test, called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry is the only way to determine your bone density. Blood calcium levels are not indicative of your bone health. Talk to your care team about when and if you should get a bone density test.

This may feel daunting, but overall, taking the outlined steps to prevent osteoporosis can benefit your overall health and well-being. Start today.

Lynn Norton is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Barton Nutrition. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy, develop individual care plans for people with acute and long-term illness, and counsel in health promotion and disease prevention. For more information about osteoporosis prevention or other nutritional issues, contact Barton Nutrition at 530-543-5824 or visit

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.