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Eating for strong bones

Building healthy bones is extremely important for girls. Keep reading to learn more:

Why should girls think about bone health? arrow top

Girls build most of their bone mass during their childhood and teen years. (Bone mass is the amount of strength inside your bones.) If you do not build strong bones now, you face a greater risk of osteoporosis (say: OSS-tee-oh-puh-ROH-suhss) later in life. Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones to the point where they break easily. More than half of women over age 65 have osteoporosis. Although it doesn't usually happen, you also can get osteoporosis when you're young.

What nutrients do girls need to protect their bones? arrow top

To build bones and keep them strong, your body needs calcium and vitamin D.

  • Calcium helps bones develop properly and grow strong. Calcium is also needed for many other activities in your body. If your body doesn't get enough calcium from foods and drinks, it takes the calcium from bones, which can weaken your bones.
  • Your body needs vitamin D to help it use calcium.

How much calcium and vitamin D do girls need? arrow top

It is very important that girls age 9 to 18 get 1,300 milligrams of calcium and 600 International Units (15 micrograms) of vitamin D per day.

How can girls get calcium and vitamin D? arrow top

Calcium is in foods such as milk and other dairy products, leafy green vegetables, cereals fortified with calcium, and almonds.

Vitamin D is in milk and some other foods, such as certain breakfast cereals, salmon, and tuna.

You can read the Nutrition Facts labels on packages to see how much calcium and vitamin D foods have.

Can girls who don't drink milk get enough calcium and vitamin D? arrow top

Some girls don't drink milk because they have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy, which means they can get stomachaches and other problems from dairy products. Some girls are vegans, which means they don't eat any animal products, including dairy.

If you have lactose intolerance, look for milk and other dairy products that are labeled "lactose-free" or "lactose-reduced." You can also talk to your doctor about pills or drops that make it easier to digest dairy.

If you don't eat dairy, it is harder to get enough calcium. Try to eat more foods with calcium, like calcium-fortified cereals. If you can't get enough calcium from food, ask your doctor if a calcium supplement is right for you.

You can get vitamin D from foods other than dairy products, but it can be very hard to get enough. Some foods, like cereal, have vitamin D added, so read package labels. If you don't eat or drink any dairy products, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement pill.

Are dairy products fattening? arrow top

If you are concerned about your weight, try low-fat and fat-free dairy products. These have the same amount of calcium and fewer calories than regular dairy products.

How does physical activity help build bones? arrow top

Physical activity causes new bone to form. All girls should do bone-strengthening activities, like walking, running, or jumping rope. If exercising outdoors is a problem for you, try climbing stairs, dancing, or marching in place while watching TV.

What kinds of activities can girls with physical disabilities do to keep their bones strong? arrow top

Here are some examples of bone-strengthening exercises for girls in wheelchairs.

  • Wheelchair aerobics focused on upper body movements
  • Arm cycling, which is a bicycling motion using one's arms
  • Wheeling a wheelchair forward, using the arms or legs, over an extended distance
  • Resistance training using wide elastic bands
  • Sports that are adapted for girls with physical disabilities, like wheelchair tennis

Read about sports and activities for girls with different types of disabilities.

What else can girls do to promote their bone health? arrow top

It is important for girls to not drink alcohol or smoke. Those behaviors can hurt bone health (and overall health, of course).

It is also important to have a healhy diet with enough nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D. That's why girls with eating disorders face an extra risk of developing weaker bones.

Also, try not to drink a lot of colas and other sodas. Studies suggest that teen girls who drink a lot of soda, especially colas, have more bone problems. This may be because they are choosing sodas instead of milk, so they aren't getting all the calcium they need to build strong bones.

Try not to eat a lot of sodium. Too much sodium can make your body lose calcium. It can lead to other health problems too, such as high blood pressure. Learn more about sodium and how much is too much.


Content last reviewed November 05, 2013
Page last updated September 13, 2018