A healthy set of bones provides structure to the body, protects the internal organs, and anchors the muscles. You cannot expect to have a good body posture, balance, and strength without a sturdy skeletal frame. Calcium is the most important building block for healthy bone development and bone maintenance.
Calcium is perhaps the most plentiful mineral in the human body, accounting for 2 percent of the total body weight. The body cannot synthesize calcium on its own and depends entirely on diet and stored reserves. The most abundant supply of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. These structures act as reserves and are drawn when blood calcium levels are low.
Besides making your bones strong and rigid, calcium is used in almost every cell in the body. Calcium helps to sustain physiological functions such as blood clotting, muscle contraction, and the heartbeat.
Vitamin D is another elemental bone-building nutrient, without which calcium cannot be absorbed effectively in the body. In addition to vitamin D, nutrients such as vitamin K and magnesium help the body metabolize and utilize calcium for the structural integrity and the overall health of our bones.
Given that your bones bear the brunt of your entire body weight, over time they tend to go through a gradual process of wear and tear. Moreover, when the body is running low on calcium, special cells called osteoclasts break down the bones to extract calcium from them. This process helps to ensure normal cell function but weakens your bones due to calcium loss.
To help your body naturally repair and restore the integrity of your bones, it is essential to get enough calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-supportive nutrients through your diet. However, most people do not pay attention to their bone health as bone loss is not visible to the eyes.
What is Osteoporosis?
Until the age of 30, bone is being generated and renewed, and calcium is being rapidly deposited. It is during this window of opportunity that you can maximize bone stores through adequate intake of dietary calcium.
This change in dietary calcium utilization means that as you get older, you are bound to suffer progressive bone loss. This occurs despite maintaining an optimal intake of calcium. Age-related weakening of bones can be attributed to genetic determinants, physical inactivity, and lower levels of circulating hormones.
If the removal of calcium from your bones occurs at a faster rate than your body can replace it, the bones become weak. This process is called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease that weakens and thins bones, making them fragile and prone to fracture.
Your bones continue to lose their density as a natural part of aging, but the degeneration is especially rapid once you cross into your 40s.
Both men and women are at risk of developing osteoporosis. However, the onset of this condition is earlier in women than in men with a delay of 5 to 10 years.
A lot of people accept the gradual weakening of their skeletal structure as an inevitable outcome of advancing age. While that may be true to some extent, the erosion of your bone strength and density can be significantly delayed, reduced, and compensated through healthy lifestyle and dietary habits.
Maintaining an adequate calcium intake is perhaps the most crucial element in ensuring that your bones remain tough and strong for a long time.
Daily Nutritional Requirements for Stronger Bones
Consuming a wholesome, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods is a good start.
Bear in mind, however, that all your vitamin D needs cannot be met through diet alone. Unlike other vitamins, our skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and stores it in fat for later use.
There are a number of factors that determine how much vitamin D your skin can produce. Some of these include the season, amount of melanin in your skin, time of day, latitude, and age.
As you get older, your skin’s ability to manufacture vitamin D declines. Various other factors such as living in northern latitudes, skin pigmentation, air pollution, warm skin temperature, and excessive sun protection can also have a bearing on the production of vitamin D in your body.
It is for this reason that vitamin D supplements are often recommended to meet your daily requirement of this essential nutrient.
Common Nutrients for Bone Health
|Nutrient||Recommended Dietary Allowance||Median Intake||Authors’ Preferred Supplementation|
|Vitamin D||600–800 IU||150–300 IU||400–1000 IU|
|Calcium||1000–1200 mg||735 mg||500 mg|
|Magnesium||320–420 mg||243 mg||250–350 mg|
|Silicon||*40 mg for bone health||21 mg||20–40 mg|
|Vitamin K||9–-120 µgm||70–80 µgm||50–150 µgm|
|Boron||*3 mg for bone health||1 mg||1–3 mg|
|Vitamin C||75–90 mg||103 mg||50–100 mg|
|Copper||0.9 mg||1.1 mg||None|
|Zinc||8–11 mg||9.6 mg||None unless vegetarian or elderly|
|Manganese||1.8–2.3 mg||2.8 mg||None|
Here are 10 foods that can make your bones stronger.
1. Organic Milk
Calcium is an essential element for strong bones, and the best source of calcium is milk. Milk also contains potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamins D and B12. All these nutrients are important for healthy bones.
It is recommended that adults drink 2 glasses of milk daily. Children and teenagers can benefit from drinking more than 2 glasses of milk. Depending upon your preference, you can choose skim, low-fat, or whole milk. Those who do not like the taste of milk can blend it into a milkshake, smoothie, or sauce.
Cheese is loaded with a good amount of calcium, along with vitamins D, A, and B12, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and protein. All of these nutrients are needed for strong bones. Cheese is also an excellent source of calcium for people who are lactose intolerant.
Just a small amount of cheese eaten regularly will support your bone health. You can have cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, goat, Parmesan, and cottage cheese.
Yogurt contains a good amount of vitamins D, A, and B12, calcium, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and protein.
In some cases, milk tends to acidify the body’s pH, which in turn causes the body to release calcium from the bones to neutralize the acid. Yogurt, on the other hand, being a fermented dairy product, works as an acid neutralizer and does not have the calcium-leaching effect.
Those who are health conscious can choose fat-free plain yogurt daily. Greek yogurt, however, may not be as healthy for your bones. Greek yogurt varieties, while high in protein, generally do not contain as much vitamin D and often have less calcium than traditional yogurts.
Tofu is a type of soy food that contains a high amount of calcium. Tofu also contains plant-based chemicals called isoflavones, which are important to help promote healthy and strong bones. It is a popular option for people who are lactose intolerant and cannot eat many types of dairy products.
One-half cup of tofu can meet about 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of calcium. Whether you eat it plain or cooked, tofu is a healthy choice for your bones. Organic and fermented tofu or other organic soy products are the most natural forms.
5. Sesame Seeds
It is suggested that you consume at least 1/4 cup of these crunchy seeds, in roasted or dried form, daily. You can sprinkle some sesame seeds on cooked vegetables, toss them into your favorite salad, and add them to stir-fry vegetables.
If you do not like the nutty taste of the seeds, you can try sesame butter. Along with sesame seeds, you should also include flaxseeds in your diet.
6. Collard Greens
This leafy green vegetable contains a good amount of calcium, along with magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin K. All of these nutrients are essential for bone health.
At the same time, the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of collard greens provide a variety of other health benefits.
One cup of cooked collard greens contains more than 1/4 of your daily calcium requirement. The best way to consume collard greens is lightly steamed with fresh garlic and onions. You can also add this leafy green vegetable to salad and soup.
Spinach is another easily available vegetable that is high in calcium content. Plus, its vitamin K content helps retain calcium in the bone matrix. Along with calcium, spinach also contains a good amount of fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A and C.
This dark-green leafy vegetable can be grilled, boiled, or eaten raw. It makes a good addition to salads, sandwiches, appetizers, and cooked dishes such as quiche and lasagna. Along with spinach, Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower will help you enjoy better bone health.
Salmon is a type of fatty fish that contains a wide range of bone-boosting nutrients, including calcium, protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids help increase the absorption of calcium in the body.
Regular consumption of salmon helps improve bone density and bone accumulation. At the same time, salmon is good for heart health.
Salmon can be grilled, poached, or baked, and you can easily incorporate it into a wide variety of healthy dishes.
Another excellent source of calcium and vitamin D is sardines. In fact, sardines contain as much calcium per serving as milk and dairy products. Sardines also contain a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.
As these little fish are perishable in nature, the most common way to enjoy sardines is from a can. The canned sardines can be added to pizza, salads, or any mashed dish. In many places, sardines are also available in fresh form and they can be easily added to salads, pastas, and sauces.
10. White Beans
White beans are another superfood for healthy bones. This legume contains a good amount of calcium, protein, fiber, and minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Depending on the type of white beans, 1 cup of cooked beans can provide a good amount of calcium to promote healthy strong bones.
You can include white beans in soups, salads, stews, bean spreads and dips, casseroles, and baked vegetables. Along with white beans, you can nourish your bones by eating pinto beans, navy beans, and black beans.
In addition to eating these foods for strong bones, it is important to consume less salt as it may deplete calcium in the body.
Additionally, regularly expose your body to sunshine to give it the required dose of vitamin D, and indulge in regular weight-bearing exercises to achieve healthy bones and strong muscles.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Amy Gorin (Registered Dietician and Nutritionist)
Are nuts and dried fruits beneficial for bone health?
Certain nuts and dried fruits can be. Nutrients that can help bone health include calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D, and magnesium. Cashews and pine nuts provide vitamin K, and there are many nuts-including almonds, pine nuts, and cashews-that offer magnesium.
Dried fruit, prunes especially are beneficial for bone health. Research in the Journal Osteoporosis International shows that eating five to six prunes daily may help prevent bone loss! Prunes contain the minerals potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamin K, all of which have been shown to help bone health.(20)
Is chocolate helpful in fighting bone density loss?
I haven’t seen anything connecting eating chocolate with greater bone density. In fact, certain studies have found older women who regularly eat chocolate to be more susceptible to lower bone density and strength.
What foods are bad for bone density?
For optimal health, it’s best to eat certain foods in moderation. This includes alcohol and chocolate. There have been researches connecting high alcohol intake with lower bone mass, and the same may be true for chocolate.
Please provide some important diet and lifestyle tips to strengthen bones for the benefit of our readers.
Because vitamin D is helpful for bones but difficult to get from foods, consider how you’re going to get more of this vitamin. Food sources include salmon and certain mushrooms grown in sunlight. Milk can also be fortified with vitamin D, and you can take supplements as well.
Getting your share of vitamin D may also help prevent hyperparathyroidism. When there is an excess of the parathyroid hormone in the blood, it may cause osteoporosis, joint pain, and other issues.
Also, make sure to get calcium from either food sources or supplements. Food sources include milk, Greek yogurt, chickpeas, lentils, and canned sardines. If you’re taking a supplement, divide your daily dose into two to help ease absorption.
About Ms. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN: She is the owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She specializes in plant-based nutrition and loves creating nutritious vegetarian recipes, which she shares on her blog, Amy’s Eat List. Stay in touch with Amy via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
- Price CT, Langford JR, Liporace FA. Essential Nutrients for Bone Health and a Review of their Availability in the Average North American Diet. The open orthopaedics journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330619.
- Nachshon L, Katz Y. THE IMPORTANCE OF “MILK BONES” TO “WISDOM BONES” – COW MILK AND BONE HEALTH – LESSONS FROM MILK ALLERGY PATIENTS. Harefuah. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27305750. Published March 2016..
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