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Nutrition for the elderly… supporting bone health

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Written by Catherine Jeans

Catherine Jeans is one of the leading Nutritional Therapists in the UK. In her first blog for Age Space she writes about the importance of good diet to support healthy bones particularly in old age.

When it comes to nutrition for the elderly, one of the key areas you can help to support with food is bone health. Sometimes we forget that vital connection between the food we eat and our health, but by making simple changes to our diet and nutrition, we can help to protect not only our bones, but also so many other areas of our bodies including our brains, our skin and our heart. It’s never too late to start eating well and looking at what we put on our plates, and in this article I’ll be focusing on food and nutrition to support bone health in the elderly.  

Protecting our bones with the right nutrients 

It’s true, that what we eat throughout our earlier years has the most dramatic impact on our bone health in later years.  We reach peak bone density in our thirties, and then our bone density gradually declines from then on.  However, getting the right diet and nutrients in our later years can help to slow bone loss and protect our bones from becoming brittle and developing osteopenia or osteoporosis, which then puts us at greater risk of fracture.  

When we think about bone nutrition, we automatically think of calcium.  This essential mineral is vital for supporting the bone structure, but we actually need to take one step backwards and look even closer at the vitamins and minerals that help to get that calcium absorbed into the bones in the first place.  

Vitamins D

Let’s start with Vitamin D – without it, our bodies cannot absorb calcium.  This essential vitamin is very limited in foods – you can get a little bit in oily fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon, egg yolks, liver and some fortified foods.  However you’d have to eat a lot of fish to get your daily requirements of Vitamin D!  Our most important source of Vitamin D comes from the action of the sun on our skin, and unfortunately many of our elderly population, whether living in a home or cared for by relatives or in their own home, don’t get outside enough or get enough sun exposure on their skin.  You can start by helping your relatives to get outside when the sun shines, and rolling up their sleeves as much as you can.  Make sure they don’t burn their skin of course, but 2 to 25 minutes of sun exposure on bare skin is ideal.  

Due to our lack of sun exposure, the UK Department of Health actually advise that all people over the age of 65 should be supplementing Vitamin D3 every day.  You can get Vitamin D from most pharmacies and health food stores – just make sure you get Vitamin D3 rather than D2, as it’s better absorbed. Liquid, spray or capsule form is ideal, rather than tablets.  I’m a big fan of the spray products by Better You which you squirt onto food or into the mouth – around 1000iu (25mcg) per day is ideal.  

Vitamin K

Another important vitamin is Vitamin K, and this vitamin helps to support the absorption of calcium within our bones, rather than in other areas of our body.  There are few food sources of Vitamin K2, which is the form needed for our bones, but these do include fermented foods such as sauerkraut and blue cheese, hard and soft cheese, chicken liver, kidney, grass fed butter (such as Kerrygold or most organic butters), chicken breast and minced beef.   

Magnesium

Magnesium is also another key nutrient for supporting calcium absorption into the body, and it’s one of our most common mineral deficiencies, particularly in the elderly.

Foods rich in magnesium include dark green leafy veg such as spinach, rocket, kale and cabbage (which are also rich in calcium, so a double whammy of goodness!).  Other sources of magnesium include fish, seafood, sunflower seeds and nuts and seeds in general, avocados, yoghurt, dried fruit, dark chocolate and beans. 

 Calcium

Finally, we need to talk about calcium and it’s vital that your relative gets a good daily supply of calciuim rich foods.  There are so many foods aside from the obvious choice of dairy which are rich in calcium.  Aside from some plain yoghurt, cheese or milk, support your loved ones intake of calcium through dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds (if they can’t eat these whole you can use ground almonds or nut butters), tinned sardines (don’t throw those calcium rich bones away), tofu, hummus, sesame seeds, dried and fresh figs, oranges and salmon.   

Catherine Jeans DipION mBANT CNHC is one of the leading Nutritional Therapists in the UK, having worked with over 1000 clients over the past 8 years in practice.  She specialises in providing families with practical solutions to support optimal wellness and a variety of health issues.  Go to her website for recipe inspiration, nutrition tips and practical advice. 

Find more useful information from Catherine on her website the The Family Nutritionist or on her Family Nutritionist Facebook page.

For more information on healthy living visit our Nutrition for Elderly People page or read local Chef Charlie Hodson’s Guide to Amazing Food

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About the author

Catherine Jeans