By Krysta Huber, Certified Nutrition Coach, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor at The Fort
Remember when you drank milk as a kid? If you’re reading this article, chances are your parents, teachers, coaches, and other influential adults in your life encouraged you to drink milk growing up. I’ve got vivid memories of pouring a glass of milk for myself–spilling a few drops because the carton was too big for my six-year-old hands, but insisting I’d do it myself because I was a strong, independent little lady. If you were like me and my siblings, we’d drink milk alongside any food, even if the combination was seemingly strange: Mom’s homemade spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce? We definitely washed that meal down with a cold glass of milk.
Now that I’ve set the tone with childhood nostalgia and memories, you’re probably wondering why I’d dedicate an entire paragraph as an ode to milk. Well, when asked to write this piece about proper nutrition for bone and joint health, it got me thinking–specifically about the controversial and contradictory information around how to truly build “big, strong bones.”
As I’m writing this, the “Got Milk?” commercial from the 1990s is flashing through my mind: you know, the one with elementary-aged kids, smiling with their milk mustaches, alongside an approving parent. What’s controversial about all this though, is the fact that most ‘80s and ‘90s kids were pushed to drink milk, by adults who never drank it beyond their own childhood years– at a time when there really wasn’t significant scientific evidence proving that milk contributed directly to strong, healthy bones.
Fast forward to 2021, and we’re all about our alternative milks. Almond milk was all the rage for a hot minute, until oat milk officially took the main stage as the tastiest addition to your morning latte. Are today’s six-year-olds adding almond or oat milk to their morning cereal instead of the classic skim? I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Milk has gone from thekids’ drink of choice to being smeared for its potentially high-inflammatory properties. Dairy continues to get a bad rap with a rise in gut health issues, which I personally see on a consistent, firsthand basis as a certified nutrition coach. The rise in women experiencing uncomfortable digestive issues, only to receive the blanket diagnosis of IBS is a frustrating new norm.
What’s really being missed in this dated milk conversation though is the fact that milk’s marketing efforts should have been a focus on calcium. Yes, milk contains calcium, and that’s ultimately the mineral that contributes to strong, healthy bones. In fact, you have more calcium in your body than any other mineral: It’s in your bones and teeth and also plays an important role in heart health, nerve signaling, and muscle function.
What’s been overlooked for years–in my opinion at least–is the fact that calcium is found in plenty of other food sources in our diet beyond milk. What’s more is that vitamin D is the unsung hero in this situation (and happens to be one of the most common deficiencies in our population today) because it supports the body in absorbing the calcium we ingest.
In other words, calcium and vitamin D work hand-in-hand to protect your bones: calcium builds and maintains bone mass, while vitamin D maximizes the benefits of calcium. What’s important to understand about bone health is that bone is continuously being rebuilt in our bodies. And that process, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), occurs because our bodies are constantly depositing calcium into new bone.
So with milk popularity on the decline, are we getting enough calcium and where should we be getting it from? Dairy products do remain the top sources of calcium in our diets based on a single serving size, so this food category shouldn’t be neglected. The minimum daily calcium requirement according to the NIH is around 1,000mg a day for men and women under 50, and 1200mg for men and women over 50. However, approximately 500-700mg is likely a more reasonable suggestion, says Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Calcium intake is especially key for women: In the U.S., in part due to the aging population, osteoporosis and low bone mass are on the rise. The NIH says that as of 2020, one in two Americans over 50 is expected to have or be at risk for developing osteoporosis in the hip.
Studies have shown that a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D alone will not prevent bone fractures. In 2006, a study of postmenopausal women who consumed a 1,000mg calcium supplement with 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D, were no less likely to break their hips than those who didn’t supplement. Their bone density did increase slightly, but that small change may be attributed to the vitamin D supplement, rather than the calcium, according to Willett.
That last point makes the case for vitamin D–and its benefits span well beyond bone health. Vitamin D is critical for immune health. It’s naturally produced by the body through the skin when we’re exposed to the sun. But most of us don’t spend enough time in the sun to produce vitamin D on our own. Protein sources like fish, halibut, and tuna for example, are great sources of vitamin D. When it comes to supplementation, many clients often ask me what’s worth their money–it’s a tricky industry lacking regulation and filled with overpromising claims. When it comes to vitamin D though, I urge just about everyone to add it to their supplement routine–even if it’s one of the only supplements they consume. Anywhere from 2,000-5,000 IU (I personally increase my intake in the winter when I spend more time indoors), should do the trick.
When it comes to nutrition overall, whole food sources are always preferred to maintain adequate micronutrients in a healthy diet. Check out this list of calcium-rich foods, some of which you should consider adding to your plate, to maintain bone and joint health as you age. No surprise that many vegetables make this list, though dairy products also have their place. My top recommendation for clients looking to increase their veggie intake. Start with your breakfast–if you’re already making eggs and egg whites, add some color to your omelet. And focus on variety to maintain a healthy, functioning gut microbiome.
Krysta Huber is a certified nutrition coach, personal trainer, and group fitness instructor. Through her personal brand,The Fitness FYX, Krysta specializes in helping group-fitness lovers lose weight without tons of cardio, hours in the kitchen, or passing up on the foods they love most. Krysta hosts a weekly wellness podcast, calledThe FYX with Krysta Huber, where she focuses on nutrition tips, goal setting, and a healthy mindset.
Krysta is also the Base Ops Studio Lead and Marketing Coordinator at The Fort Athletic Club, Monmouth County’s newest and cleanest fitness facility. The Club is open as of Saturday, October 9th, 2021, with an abbreviated schedule through October 31st, 2021. The Fort is home to four boutique fitness studios, and space for athletic programming and training for youth athletics–which means parents of young athletes will no longer have to drive their kids’ long distances for practices, games, and tournaments. Try us for 7 days and learn more about all our offerings by visiting our website:www.fortathleticclub.com