Phytonutrients, Foods & Bone Health
Along with vitamins, minerals and fiber, fruits and vegetables contain plant-based compounds known as phytonutrients that research suggests provide a range of potential health benefits, including bone health. America's Phytonutrient Report: Bone Health by Color focused on four color categories of phytonutrients. The research highlighted the key food sources that provide phytonutrients in these color categories.
Green Phytonutrients: EGCG, lutein/zeaxanthin, isoflavones
Key Food Sources: tea, spinach, soybeans
Red Phytonutrient: lycopene
Key Food Sources: tomatoes and tomato products
White Phytonutrient: quercetin
Key Food Sources: onions
Yellow/Orange Phytonutrients: beta-carotene, hesperitin, beta-cryptoxanthin
Key Food Sources: carrots, oranges and orange juice
Additional Key Findings
Using NHANES and USDA data that show what Americans eat, America's Phytonutrient Report: Bone Health by Color also concluded the following:
Approximately 50 percent of Americans who meet their recommended intakes of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis also get over 1000 mg of calcium and more than 200 IU of vitamin D in their daily diet, compared to the 25 percent of Americans for each nutrient who fail to meet their recommended intakes of fruits and vegetables.
The mean calcium intake among people meeting their fruit and vegetable recommendations was 1110 mg/day compared to only 880 mg/day among those failing to meet fruit and vegetable recommendations.
For vitamin D, those meeting their fruit and vegetable recommendations consumed 244 IU/day compared to only 184 IU/day among those failing to meet their fruit and vegetable recommendations.
Depending upon age, for adults, calcium intakes should be between 1000-1200 mg/day and vitamin D should be between 200-600 IU/day, with some scientists looking at the benefits of even higher vitamin D intakes. Therefore, these new research findings, though not designed to test phytonutrient intake and bone health outcomes, suggest that Americans who fall short in fruit and vegetable consumption and have a "phytonutrient gap," also are more likely to fall short in calcium and vitamin D.
An estimated 10 million Americans over age 50 have osteoporosis or "thinning of the bones," while another 34 million Americans are at risk. Subsequently, it's important to make bone health a life-long commitment to defend against thinning bones and avoid premature bone loss. While nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D are critical to bone health, emerging research suggests that phytonutrients – the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables – may offer specific benefits to bone health and are an important part of the daily diet as well.
Closing the "Phytonutrient Gap"
An earlier study, America's Phytonutrient Report: Quantifying the Gap, showed that, on average, eight out of 10 Americans have a "phytonutrient gap" – that is, they fall short in consuming key phytonutrients from foods that could benefit their health, including bone health.
To help close the "phytonutrient gap" and promote better bone health, here are some tips for people at any age:
Calcium and Vitamin D-Rich Breakfast. Start your day with breakfast foods like lower fat dairy, soy milk, yogurt and calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals for bone-healthy nutrients.
Add Color to Meals. Toss some phytonutrient-rich foods into meals. If you like soup, consider adding kale, broccoli or turnip greens, which also provide bone-building calcium.
Exercise. Keep in mind that diet alone will not keep your bones dense and strong. A weight-bearing exercise program that includes walking, jogging or running, and use of free weights, is important for bone health.
Meet the Daily Phytonutrient Goal. A good goal for most individuals is to consume 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. For those having trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables into their diet, natural, plant-based supplements which contain phytonutrients can help close the "phytonutrient gap."