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Ditch the soda, and other simple ways to help your kids grow strong and healthy bones.

I was experiencing athletic energy deficit in college, and that’s when I first got involved with American Bone Health (ABH). I ran for Duke University, where I eventually became a five-time All-American. But my freshman year, I found out my bone density was compromised because my energy in was not matching the energy I was putting out.

I connected with ABH, where I learned so much about bones and the nutrition needed to support them. One of the most alarming facts I learned was that 80 percent of bone density is built in a human before the age of 18. As a 19 year old, finding out that my bones were already low in density was very scary. I also found out that the loss of a women’s menstrual cycle can inhibit calcium absorption due to low estrogen levels. (Many female athletes experience this loss, called athletic amenorrhea.) Estrogen levels become low when a female doesn’t match energy in with energy out, which leads to the loss of her period.

I immediately began researching things I could do to make my bones stronger. I found out that 1400 mg of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K were critical for bone health. Eating lots of high-protein foods including red meat, dark leafy greens and lots of healthy fats like avocados and nuts also became a regular part of my routine. Eating highly nutritive food, along with lots of dairy and healthy fats, not only turned my bone density around, but also my running performance.

After noticing the incredible results that stemmed from changing my diet, I felt the need to spread the word about the importance of bones and their connection to nutrition. Without strong bones everything in the body is compromised—not just femurs and vertebrae, but also because bones support and protect our most important organs. They are beneath our skin, and when we don’t think about them on a regular basis, it can be difficult to remember how important they are.

For young children in the United States, there is not much education about bones and how to make them strong. As a mother of four, professional runner and ABH ambassador, giving families knowledge and motivation to have strong, healthy bones is one of my missions in life! Here are four ways to ensure your children grow strong bones before they reach their late teens.

  • High-impact exercise, such as jumping, dancing and running can help build strong bones. The impact allows bones to build bone tissue, and the muscles built from exercise tug against the bone, making them stronger! Sports with jumping in them, like volleyball and basketball, are great ways to build strong bones while having fun. Just think: The more you fight gravity, the stronger your bones become. Here are a few more bone building exercises.
  • Calcium-rich diets, with foods like milk, yogurt and dark leafy greens, can help your bones get and stay strong. The calcium that we eat is stored in our blood cells, and we need it for our muscles, nerves impulses and our bones. If our bodies do not get enough calcium they will take it from our bones, making them weaker. Lots of foods have calcium in them, so be sure you and your kids are getting at least 1400 mg a day!
  • Avoiding soda and highly processed foods is important for our bones. Soda can actually strip our bones from absorbing the nutrients they need. Also, when we drink soda we are replacing good liquids (like milk and calcium-rich­ juices) that can help our bones with non-nutritive drinks (like soda) that are bad for our bodies and bones. The same goes for highly processed foods. When foods are processed, they are robbed of their nutrients, and without nutrients our bones will be robbed as well. We call these “bone bandits.” Eating a baked potato instead of potato chips is an example of choosing a whole food instead of a processed version of it.
  • Healthy diets including lots of “good fats” (avocados, nuts, etc.) help us absorb our nutrients and give us long-lasting energy. Without proper absorption our bones cannot use the calcium we eat, and without enough energy our body will not be able to build and keep strong bones. Along with healthy fats we also need vitamin D. Vitamin D is what lets our body use the calcium we eat to build strong bones. Vitamin D is added to many foods like milk and orange juice but you can also get it from being in the sun! Getting 600 IUs a day is recommend for kids.

These are just a few of the facts that every parent or guardian should know about helping kids develop healthy bones. Most importantly, while we are young is our window to grow strong bones for a lifetime. Let’s start now!

Photo credit: Halfpoint, Adobe Stock

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Clara Peterson
Clara Horowitz Peterson grew up in Berkeley, California. Clara learned very early that her true love was running and became a four-time California state champion in cross-country and track, and a five-time all-American while at Duke University, where she attended undergrad. Clara married her college sweetheart, Jeff Peterson, who was a runner from university of North Carolina. After Clara's collegiate running career, Clara and Jeff moved to Marin County in California in 2007, where Clara ran as a professional runner in between having 4 four children. Clara also obtained her Masters in education in 2011 at the University of San Francisco and is passionate about teaching children, both her own and others, about health and building strong bones. Clara still lives in Marin County with her four children and husband, and is an ambassador for American Bone Health.