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Teen Years Are Good Time To Start In Fight Against Osteoporosis

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Twenty-five million Americans have osteoporosis -- a bone loss disease that affects mostly women. Many older women think about adding calcium to their diet, but health experts said it should be a bigger concern at a much younger age.

Jessie Irvin, 17, is not a pro tennis player yet, but that is her goal. She said she knows to be the best, she has to train hard and eat the foods that keep her body strong, including calcium.

"Milk, cheese -- I love yogurts," Irvin said.

For Irvin, these are her calcium, bone-building years.

"Around 30, we stop. We stop making bone and what we're trying to do is maintain it," said registered dietician Erin Cross.

Cross said eating calcium-rich foods at a younger age is like saving money for the future. It can make people bone-rich in their old age.

Health experts said everyone should get 1,300 milligrams of calcium spread out in three meals every day. Milk is a common source, but one serving is 100 milligrams. Some fortified juice has even more.

"You can also get it from low-fat cheese, yogurt, almonds, green leafy vegetables, canned salmon," Cross said.

Cross said you can even look at canned sardines.

"They're a great source of calcium and protein, lean protein," she said.

But often, those foods are the kind that many teenagers or adults do not eat. Supplements can help. One Viactiv chewable has 200 milligrams of calcium, but health experts said people cannot live on a diet of supplements.

"A supplement is just that, a supplement, and too many people rely on supplements for all of their vitamins," Cross said.

Supplements are usually well-absorbed by the body, but only in the presence of other foods. Cross said eating the right foods during the teen years is the perfect place to start.

"Because it is at this point that they are very impressionable. They are developing habits that will last them the rest of their life," Cross said.

Cross said calcium supplements are best absorbed when taken with other foods.