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How Indian women can have a calcium rich diet for better bone health

Dr. Dharini Krishnan

Dr. Dharini Krishnan
19 October 2020

This article is authored by Dr. Dharini Krishnan, an award-winning Consultant Dietitian, she believes that for a healthy body and mind, we must combine modern medicine with native Indian practices which are proven to benefit us.

It’s nearly impossible these days to find people who don’t focus on their diet one way or another. But when our diets are motivated by the wrong reasons, watching what we eat may lead to more harm than good. Indian women, in particular, often struggle to get enough calcium into their diet when they are following set diets, leading to several health problems.

Why calcium is important

A calcium rich diet is vital for bone health, proper nerve function, blood clotting and muscle health. Women, in particular, are more prone to osteoporosis, a thinning of bones that can lead to repeated fractures and breaks. Even health authorities have recognized the need to increase calcium consumption among Indian women. Thus, new guidelines issued by the National Institute of Nutrition have raised the recommended daily allowance of calcium for women from 600 mg/day to 1,000 mg/day.

Why women suffer calcium deficiency

As they grow older, women tend to consume less milk and milk products. One possible reason for this is the myth that milk consumption leads to weight gain. The problem grows worse in older women, as their estrogen levels drop at menopause. Estrogen plays a crucial role in calcium metabolism and helps in reducing the number of cells that cause bone degradation. Estrogen also promotes active Vitamin D formation, which, in turn, stimulates calcium absorption from the intestines.

Loss of dietary variety causes calcium deficiency

While calcium plays such a vital role in women’s lives, many of the newer diet patterns often lead to a drop in dietary calcium. For instance, the mono diet involves only eating one food group. This leads to an imbalance of nutrients and a lack of dietary calcium. The Fast800 diet only allows 800 calories per day, which leads to drastic deficiencies if not perfectly planned. Similarly, the ketogenic diet severely restricts carbohydrate consumption, which leads women to drop milk from their diet. Taking on a diet only with the aim of losing weight and looking skinny causes a lot of harm, as people don’t pay enough attention to the nutritional balance of their meals.

Many young Indians don’t have a sense of nutritional balance when they move out of their family homes and start cooking and caring for their own nutrition. This is when they fall prey to fad diets, neglecting the fact that a balanced diet with a variety of foods is the surest way to health.

Can calcium supplements help?

In certain cases of higher deficiency, calcium supplements may need to be prescribed for a calcium rich diet. However, supplements come with their own difficulties. Certain medicines such as antibiotics, bisphosphonates and high blood pressure medications can interact with calcium supplementation. Calcium can also affect the absorption of iron, zinc and magnesium. While supplements are useful in certain cases, in general, upping our dietary consumption of calcium is the best way forward.

How to increase dietary calcium

There are several great dietary sources for calcium, including milk, curd, whole pulses, whole grains (like red rice), millets (like ragi, jowar and bajra), almonds, green leafy vegetables, black sesame seeds, black eyed beans and dry fruits (like figs and raisins). All spices contain trace amounts of calcium. So, a traditional diet provides many useful sources of calcium. Ajwain, in particular, is a good source when cooked with citran leaves. Curry leaves are another excellent source, and one should make it a point to consume the curry leaves used in sambhar, rasam, and so on. Sweets and traditional milagai podi (chilli powder made for dosa/idli) that use sesame seeds are another great source of calcium.

Pay attention to calcium

To avoid a future with joint pains and other orthopaedic problems, take care of your calcium consumption now. Sure, there are calcium supplements to make up for severe deficiencies. But a balanced, traditional diet with a variety of calcium rich foods can do a much better job of taking care of our bone health.

Make sure that your diet is chockfull of all the vital nutrients that help you lead a healthy lifestyle.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

 

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Diet, exercise and sunlight: Three factors women shouldn’t ignore for good bone health

Dr. Dharini Krishnan

Dr. Dharini Krishnan
11 January 2021

This article is authored by Dr. Dharini Krishnan, an award-winning Consultant Dietitian, she believes that for a healthy body and mind, we must combine modern medicine with native Indian practices which are proven to benefit us.

Barring a significant injury or fracture, we rarely tend to think about bone health. Yet, for women, particularly those who are middle-aged or older, this is a vital concern because of the risk of osteoporosis.

In 2013, it was estimated that there were 50 million Indians who were osteoporotic or having low bone mass. Some studies have found that the prevalence of osteoporosis could be as high as 42.5% in women over the age of 50.

Osteoporosis and health complications

Eat Breakfast

Osteoporosis comes from the Latin for “porous bone”, and is a condition where bone tissue loses its density, and becomes weaker and more fragile. Such bones are easily susceptible to breaks, resulting in pain, disability and loss of functionality in everyday life.

Bones, which form the primary supporting framework of the body, grow from birth till our early twenties, which is the period of peak bone mass. Bone is an active tissue that undergoes regular replacement in conditions of health.

In osteoporosis, however, bone formation is outpaced by bone loss, leading to porosity or thinness of bone tissue and brittle bones. Such bones could easily be fractured even in the absence of significant trauma. Such fractures tend to reduce mobility and lead to increased hospitalization and dependence on others.

Why osteoporosis affects women more

Women are particular at risk for osteoporosis because they have lesser bone mass to start with. The geometry and structure of bone have also been increasingly recognized as important risk factors for fracture.

The risk of osteoporosis significantly rises during menopause because of the hormonal changes women undergo at the time. This is because estrogen plays a significant role in maintaining bone health, and the secretion of this hormone falls drastically during menopause.

The importance of protein and calcium in the diet

Skin Care

For some time now, awareness of the importance of calcium for bone health has been growing. Hence, women are advised to consume sufficient amounts of dairy, green leafy vegetables, soya products and nuts.

What many don’t realise is that sufficient levels of protein are just as important for strong bones. After all, protein makes up roughly 50% of bone volume and about one-third of its mass. Daily intake of protein is also necessary to provide the raw materials for bone formation. Unfortunately, research shows that the levels of dietary protein consumed by Indians are actually reducing.

For non-vegetarians chicken, fish and eggs are good sources of protein. For vegetarians, pulses are one of the primary sources of protein, along with dairy products. Daily intake of protein in at least two major meals of the day, particularly in healthy forms such as sambhar or dal is, therefore, vital.

The role of exercise and sunlight

Eat Breakfast

Bone health also requires good muscle health. This makes it necessary to undertake moderate exercise as often as possible. A 45-minute walk six days a week as well as resistance training using the body weight, such as surya namaskaras, can go a long way to building muscles. Importantly, the body also requires Vitamin D to mobilize calcium for bone health. Hence, exposure to peak sunlight between 11am and 3 pm at least twice a week is also vital for bone health.

Osteoporosis can be a serious health problem that disrupts life and limits mobility, particularly for women. However, a healthy diet, rich in calcium and protein, together with exercise, can go a long way in maintaining bone health.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

 

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