“Eat all your vegetables and you’ll grow big and strong.” References to parents telling their children to eat healthily can be found in literature stretching back centuries. And first lady Michelle Obama’s not the only person to recommend filling at least half your plate with veggies. It’s basic, yet sound, advice. But every year brings new research that offers information to fine-tune your diet in order to support good health or treat specific conditions.
Your musculoskeletal system – your bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons – has its own grocery list to stay in top condition. For optimum mobility, flexibility and quality of life, consider feeding it what it craves.
Collagen, a structural protein, is in the tissues that make up your muscles, joints and bones. It’s the strong collagen fibers that bind your tissues together. Collagen also keeps your bones from becoming brittle and prone to fractures. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin C, collagen can break down, leading to joint swelling and pain. Fortunately, vitamin C is present in most fruits and vegetables. Most people might grab an orange for a vitamin C boost, but papaya, bell peppers and broccoli actually pack more vitamin C. A serving of Brussels sprouts, pineapple or strawberries can also deliver a daily dose of vitamin C.
No surprise here, right? Calcium is known as a bone builder and as a way to protect against excessive bone loss. Calcium is also needed by your muscles in order to contract. Dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium, but you don’t have to stop there. Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, turnip greens and collard greens are full of calcium. So are sardines, nuts and nut milks and soy products.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common condition and calcium absorption is dependent on adequate vitamin D in your system. If you are low on vitamin D, all the calcium in the world won’t provide optimum bone-building benefits. But if you get the right combination of calcium and vitamin D, you significantly reduce your risk of fractures, which is especially important for older adults. Lean meats, beans, eggs and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are good food sources of vitamin D.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids help limit inflammation that can cause painful swelling in your joints. Omega-3s have been shown to help control painful symptoms in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Ground flax seeds and flax seed oil is an easy way to get plenty of Omega-3s in your diet. Both can be added to just about any recipe without changing the flavor. A daily handful of walnuts provides a full daily dose of Omega-3s. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are also excellent sources of Omega-3s.
Nutrition in a pill?
When you turn to nutrition to support good health, the real deal is always the best deal. That is, actual food sources are better than supplements. But if you find yourself challenged to juggle your grocery budget, your family’s food preferences and eating to support your musculoskeletal system, talk to your doctor about your overall nutrition and whether supplements might be an option for you. If you are vitamin D deficient, for example, you may need vitamin D supplements at least until you reach normal levels.
In the meantime, consider ways you can use nutrition to maintain strong bones and flexible joints and muscles. Tossing a few fruits and vegetables from the vitamin C list in a blender with a tablespoon of flax oil or flax seeds and some almond milk or soy milk will create a smoothie that is a breakfast of champions for your musculoskeletal system!