Bone Health Information for Veterans


Osteoporosis is a concern for many women, especially after menopause. It can also affect men later in life.

Osteoporosis is not a normal part of aging; it is a metabolic disease that affects the density and quality of bones, leading to a higher risk of fractures and associated complications, including pain, loss of independence and reduced quality of life.

Medication is the primary management tool for osteoporosis, while lifestyle is integral to prevention.

May is National Osteoporosis Month and a great time to highlight an often overlooked disease that affects millions of Americans. As a VA dietitian, I encourage you to keep the risk of osteoporosis on your radar.

Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Strong Bones:

  • Try to increase fruits and vegetables to 5 servings per day.

    Calcium (1200 mg / day for women 51 and over and men 71 and over, 1000 mg / day for men 50 to 70): We are continually breaking down and rebuilding bones, making calcium crucial for bone building throughout life. Milk and yogurt, at around 300 mg / serving, are great sources. If you choose milk substitutes, like almonds or soy, look for those fortified with calcium. Non-dairy sources, such as green vegetables or fortified foods, can provide 50-200 mg of calcium / serving.

  • Vitamin D (800-1000 IU / d adults 50 years and over): Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Daily sun exposure and foods like oily fish and fortified milk are recommended. Many adults have vitamin D deficiency that requires supplementation. Have your levels checked before starting a supplement.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin K and potassium, fruits and vegetables provide the micronutrients necessary for healthy bones.
  • Protein: Adequate protein, such as lean meat or 5-6 ounce legumes, helps maintain muscle mass and bone health. Milk and yogurt not only contain calcium, but are also good sources of protein. Too much protein or processed meats high in sodium can increase the loss of calcium in the urine.
  • Sodium: Limit yourself to 2300 mg / day or less. Foods high in salt, primarily in packaged, processed, and restaurant foods, can cause calcium loss in the urine. Cheese is a good source of calcium but is high in sodium; eat it in moderation.
  • Weight-bearing activities: All exercises are great for your health, but you need weight-bearing activities like walking, jogging, and dancing to strengthen your bones. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day or try to reach 10,000 steps a day. Check your local VA for exercise programs. Any movement is better than nothing!
  • Strength and Balance: Strong muscles equal strong bones. Good balance and flexibility help reduce the risk of injury and falls. Try to include exercise with resistance bands, bodyweight, dumbbells, tai chi, and yoga for at least 2-3 days / week.

More information

The USDA MyPlate website is great for exploring different food groups, their associated benefits, and foods to target at different stages of life. Not sure what or how to prepare some of the above foods?

VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen is a great resource. For more information, contact your local VA to make an appointment with a registered dietitian to help keep these bones healthy.

Courtney Reynolds is a Veteran and Ambulatory Dietitian at Salt Lake City VA Medical Center, providing nutrition education and counseling to veterans to help them achieve their health goals.

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