Are there foods that are helpful for building bone density? —Cait
You're smart to ask, since several factors put female dancers at risk of low bone density. While any form of weight-bearing activity, including ballet, will help build bone mass, excessive training, being underweight and disordered eating—which are common among young dancers—can lead to hormonal imbalances that affect bone health. If you have stopped getting your period or have an irregular menstrual cycle, listen up!
According to Karen M. Gauci, MPH, RD, LD, dietitian for the Harid Conservatory, women stop building bone density around age 30. It's crucial to develop bone health now in order to prevent problems like osteopenia and osteoporosis down the line.
Gauci recommends eating foods rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, and comes from dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt; green, leafy vegetables; and bone-in anchovies and sardines. Magnesium aids calcium absorption, while phosphorous helps increase bone mineralization; both are readily available in most fruits and vegetables. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposure to sunlight—not always easy for dancers who are cooped up in the studio all day. According to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 10 to 15 minutes of exposure a day should do the trick. Vitamin D–rich foods include fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), eggs and portobello mushrooms, as well as D-fortified milk and orange juice.
However, Gauci warns against eating too much animal protein like beef, pork and eggs. "You need calcium in order to digest it, so your body will pull calcium from your bones," she says. That's why plant-based protein sources (such as beans, lentils, quinoa), which do not need calcium to be metabolized, should be an integral part of your diet.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.