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Diet, exercise and osteoporosis

Got milk - get strong bones, right? Wrong. For decades, dairy has been anointed as the all-American protector of bones. Health conscious American parents go to extremes persuading their children to consume dairy products. Makers of boxed mac and cheese, chocolate milk and sugar-laden yogurts all capitalize on the heavily marketed theory that calcium is necessary at all costs. The National Dairy Council spends millions of dollars on "Got Milk?" ads featuring high-profile celebrities proudly combating America's alleged "calcium emergency."

Strangely, Americans average more calcium daily than almost any other country. Stranger yet, Americans have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates more than 10 million Americans currently suffer from osteoporosis with another 34 million "at-risk."

Think our aging population causes such alarming numbers? Think again. According to the Center for Disease Control, America has a lower percentage of people age 65 and older than most European and "developing" countries. Sure, we lose bone mass as we age, but much of this loss can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle. Oh yes, those words again . . . healthy lifestyle. I can feel the eye rolls as I type. I know you think you know what a healthy lifestyle is, but Amer-ica's osteoporosis rates are yet another example that most Americans are buying into food producers profit-seeking definitions of "healthy" instead of actual science.

Now, before I get hate mail from dairy industry enthusiasts, hear me out. Calcium is vital for a healthy body, but it's only one piece of the bone puzzle. We need calcium for strong bones, but we also need somewhere between 16 to 18 other nutrients like Vitamin D, Vitamin K, and phosphorus. So how much calcium do we need? Well, no one really knows. The USDA recommends we get 1,200 mg a day, higher than any other country's recommended daily intake. The World Health Organization recommends only 400-500 mg a day. One thing is certain; countries with the highest average calcium intakes have higher rates of bone fracture and osteoporosis. This doesn't mean we should avoid dairy, but it does mean we shouldn't focus on it.

Many scientists and nutritionists argue a diet heavy in dairy and meat products leaves out far too many fruits and vegetables. Thus, depriving our bodies of other nutrients essential to bone health. Focusing on dairy and meat also ignores their inherent problems like high levels of saturated fats, sodium and hormones. Further complicating the issue is the fickle relationship between blood Ph and calcium absorption in the body. Dairy and meat are highly acidic. When our blood becomes too acidic, the body tries to neutralize it by drawing calcium from our bones.

Therefore, an increasingly supported bone-healthy theory promotes a diet consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables with meat and dairy in moderation. This is because fruits and vegetables are alkaline foods, meaning they balance out acidic foods. It's no surprise that diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes are associated with highly acidic blood. Also not surprisingly, in addition to dairy and meat, other American favorites like sugar, coffee, flour and alcohol are acidic once metabolized by the body.

The good news is dairy is good for bones, in moderation. Even better news, fruits and vegetables are even better for bones, in abundance. I'd love to hop off my healthy lifestyle soapbox and end this column right here. Unfortunately, diet alone won't build strong bones. After all, the title is "Diet, Exercise and Osteoporosis." So go grab some broccoli and come back next time for the role of exer-cise in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

Sarah Frieden is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Park Rapids. Please email your health and fitness questions to All questions will remain anonymous.