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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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MyPlate: Good for Your Bones
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Jay Cao

Healthy bones are essential for an active life. Bones have many important functions.  They provide structure and protect our vital organs.  Our muscles attach to them, which enables us to move.

Compromised bone health can result in the loss of bone mineral and lead to the disease called osteoporosis (meaning "too little bone").  Osteoporosis affects nearly 10 million Americans.  It occurs most often among adults over the age of 50 years, making their bones porous, brittle and susceptible to fracture.  Osteoporosis contributes to fractures of the hip and wrist associated with falls, as well as to smaller, "micro" fractures" of the spine, which reduce stature.  Both types of fractures are increasingly prevalent among older Americans. 

Good nutrition is the key to protecting our bones and to preventing osteoporosis. The bone development requires a constant and sufficient supply of nutrients, such as calcium, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin D. And bone metabolic processes need many other vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, K, C and the B vitamins, manganese, copper, and iron.

my plate logo In June of 2011, the USDA introduced a new food icon, MyPlate, and a website to educate consumers on healthy eating. The purpose of MyPlate is to promote messages based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  MyPlate emphasizes five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy products. Consuming balanced each of these food groups as recommended in MyPlate helps you build and maintain healthy bones.

MyPlate recommends that half of your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. High intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers and low risk of osteoporosis. Fruits and vegetables like spinach, soybeans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, oranges, berries, green tea, are rich in many bone-building substances such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Additionally, fruits and vegetables contain a variety of bioactive components known as phytonutrients. Many of these phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants and they also have anti-inflammatory properties. Reactive oxygen species and proinflammatory conditions are known to increase bone loss in postmenopausal women and in aging. By eliminating these damaging forms of oxygen produced by normal metabolism in the body, phytonutrients help to mitigate age-related chronic diseases including osteoporosis.

Furthermore, fruits and vegetables offer benefits to bone health beyond supplying those bone-building essential nutrients and their antioxidant activities. It is well-known that acid increases urinary calcium loss and is detrimental to bones. Diets high in fruits and vegetables tend to be alkaline and therefore reduce calcium loss in urine and are beneficial to bone health.
As an essential part of a healthy diet, MyPlate recommends that at least half of all the grains are whole grains. Whole grains consist of the entire grain seed including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grains are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Grains are also low in fat. Low-fat diet is good to bone health because less calcium would bind to fat to form insoluble soap in the intestine and therefore more calcium would be available for absorption. Whereas, studies show that high-fat diet can induce obesity leading to chronic inflammation and increaseing the activity of cells that break down bones.

Protein is an important part of MyPlate. Protein is needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of body tissues. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein foods group. High protein intake increases calcium absorption and bone mineral density. MyPlate recommends that a variety of protein foods should be selected to improve nutrient intake and health benefits. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.

Dairy products should be consumed daily as part of healthy MyPlate. They are the good source of calcium in Western diets. Calcium is an essential mineral for bones and many biological functions in the body. About 99% of your body's calcium is stored in bones and teeth. Dairy products, such as yogurt, are also good sources of potassium and vitamin D when fortified with this nutrient. Intake of dairy products improves bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. MyPlate recommends that fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese should be chosen.

Although physical activity is not illustrated on the MyPlate icon, it is still very important for an overall healthy lifestyle especially for bone health. Researchers have found that getting enough weight-bearing exercise is by far the most effective way to prevent or reduce the incidence of osteoporosis. It is recommended that adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity for at least 10 minutes at a time and do strengthening activities at least 2 days a week.

To learn more about the icon and healthy eating tips and healthy menus, please go to "".


Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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