As you enter your 40s and approach perimenopause, you will inevitably start to slowly lose bone density and strength. This process causes no visible symptoms. But making changes to your diet now will shore up your body against the drop in estrogen levels at menopause that dramatically increases the risk for a break due to osteoporosis.
Start your day with an iron-fortified cereal. The hormonal changes that come with perimenopause can cause you to lose more blood when you menstruate and therefore more iron. Researchers have found that this mineral is directly linked to a healthy bone density. Iron is thought to help promote the production of collagen, a central component of bone. In a study of women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, those whose daily iron consumption hovered around 18mg (the amount found in 1 cup of some fortified cereals) had the greatest bone-mineral density. Plus, iron-fortified cereals often contain added calcium—and they're typically low in calories. So it's a win, win, win.
Enjoy what you eat. Not a fan of the cereals with added iron? Start adding blackstrap molasses to any bread or cookies you make. This sweetener is rich in both iron and calcium.
And don't worry if you don't like fish, which is also recommended by doctors for good bone health. There are plenty of ways to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods that you do enjoy. Eat a small handful of walnuts or almonds every afternoon or go ahead and sprinkle some ground flaxseeds on your hot or cold cereal in the morning.
Ask your doc for a blood test. To find out how much vitamin D you currently have in your blood, request the 25 hydroxy-vitamin D-level test. For optimum bone health, your level should be over 31. But to reduce your cancer risk and improve your overall health, strive for between 40 and 50. Start taking vitamin D right away if your numbers are low. Women of color should be especially vigilant: Extra pigment in the skin makes it even harder to absorb enough sunlight to make vitamin D.