Bone health is essential for everyone, especially for those at risk for bone loss or osteoporosis. While many factors contribute to bone health, one of the most important is diet. Eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is essential for maintaining bone density and osteoporosis prevention. In particular, foods high in
calcium and vitamin D are crucial for bone health. Calcium helps build and maintain bone mass, while vitamin D helps the body with calcium absorption.
Foods that are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids can help promote bone growth and prevent bone loss as well.
Let’s dig into each of these a little deeper.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body! 2% of your weight is calcium!
99% of which is in bones and teeth. 1% circulates in the bloodstream helping with blood clotting, nerve signaling, and muscle function, including those functions in the heart. (1)
We need more calcium in midlife as estrogen levels drop. This is because estrogen helps regulate calcium absorption, and decreased absorption leads to greater risks of bone loss and cardiovascular disease.
The great news is you can improve calcium regulation simply by modifying your diet!
Some calcium-rich foods include:
- Hard Cheese
- Nuts and Seeds
- Green leafy vegetables (collards, spinach, and kale)
- Edamame and Tofu
- Calcium-fortified foods, including cereals, can also help when fresh foods are in limited supply
- Orange Juice
While calcium is essential, too much in the form of supplementation can be detrimental. If you have questions about whether a supplement is right for you, consult a doctor or Certified Nutrition Specialist for guidance
Vitamin D is crucial for bone health. Vitamin D supports immune health, helps repair and build muscle and bone, and is essential for calcium absorption. We are at a greater risk for fracture when deficient in Vitamin D. (2)
Sources of Vitamin D Include:
- Cod liver oil
- Tuna fish
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- Dairy and plant milks fortified with vitamin D
- Fortified cereals
- Sunlight! Try to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight every day (for anyone living north of Richmond VA, St Louis MI, Denver CO, or San Francisco CA, six months of the year, the UV wavelength is not adequate for absorbing vitamin D in your skin and a supplement may be needed during those times).
Magnesium is another key nutrient for bone health.
Magnesium helps the body absorb calcium and vitamin D and plays a vital role in bone mineralization. Magnesium also helps reduce inflammation, which is important for maintaining healthy bones. In addition, magnesium helps with nerve and muscle function, including those of the heart. It also helps regulate calcium absorption in bones.
Some magnesium-rich foods include:
Nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds)
Legumes (beans, chickpeas)
Leafy greens (such as spinach and Swiss chard)
Protein is an essential building block for bones. Eating a diet that is rich in protein helps to keep your bones strong by providing the body with the amino acids it needs to build new bone tissue. Protein also helps to maintain muscle mass, which is essential for maintaining balance and preventing falls.
Foods that are high in protein include:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for bone health, as they help to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can lead to an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Nuts and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds)
What foods should you avoid to promote bone health?
Certain foods can increase your risk of bone loss. These include:
Most people consume more sodium than they need. Sodium is an essential mineral, but our bodies only require a small amount. The trouble is we tend to eat a lot of processed foods that are high in sodium, which can lead to negative consequences for our bone health.
Excess sodium has been linked to higher rates of bone loss and a greater risk of osteoporosis. That’s because sodium causes the body to excrete calcium through urine, and calcium is essential for strong bones. In addition, sodium promotes inflammation, which can damage bone tissue.
So how can you reduce your sodium intake? First, avoid highly processed foods as much as possible, and choose fresh fruits and vegetables instead. When cooking, use herbs and spices to flavor food instead of salt. And be sure to check food labels for sodium content before you purchase anything.
Too much sugar can lead to bone problems. Your body produces more insulin when you eat or drink foods high in sugar. This increased insulin production causes your body to pull calcium from your bones, resulting in bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Sugar also promotes inflammation throughout the body, and this inflammation can damage bone tissue. It’s ok to enjoy processed or sugary foods occasionally, but balancing your intake with fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and high-quality protein will help promote healthy bones.
Alcohol in excess
Unfortunately, excess alcohol consumption can take a toll on bone health. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of calcium, which is important for strong bones. In addition, alcohol inhibits the production of vitamin D, which is necessary for bone growth and development. Therefore, excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to bone loss and an increased risk of fractures. For these reasons, it is essential to moderate alcohol consumption to maintain bone health.
An important note on medications
Medications can interfere with bone health in several ways. One way is by affecting nutrient absorption. Certain medications can reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals essential for bone health. As a result, those who take these medications may be at an increased risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. In addition, some medications can increase the body’s excretion of calcium, leading to further bone loss. Therefore, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider about the potential risks and benefits of any medication.
In addition to eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D-rich foods, you should also engage in weight-bearing exercises such as walking or jogging regularly. This helps strengthen bones and build muscle mass, reducing your risk of fractures and other bone-related conditions.
By following a healthy diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids and engaging in regular exercise, you can ensure that your bones remain strong and healthy for years to come.
- Jiao, Lijuan, et al. “Estrogen and Calcium Handling Proteins: New Discoveries and Mechanisms in Cardiovascular Diseases.” American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, vol. 318, no. 4, Apr. 2020, pp. H820–29. journals.physiology.org (Atypon), https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpheart.00734.2019.
- Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue and Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. “Vitamin D.” The Nutrition Source, 18 Sept. 2012, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/.
- Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue and Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. “Magnesium.” The Nutrition Source, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/magnesium/.