Eating Your Way to Strong Bones

Healthy BonesMillions of Americans suffer from osteoporosis and low bone mass. These health issues can be relieved with adequate exercise and proper dietary supplementation. It is generally known that exercise as well as calcium and vitamin D are the main nutrients to promote bone strength, but there are other lesser known nutrients that can help improve bone strength.

What are bones made of?

Calcium and phosphate are the primary contributors to bone structure. Magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin K are also important for bone health. People commonly mistake bone as a hard and dead tissue, but it actually consists of osteoblasts and osteoclasts that are constantly fixing small fractures that can occur from everyday normal activity. To provide enough minerals for the constant remodeling of your bones, eating a healthy diet is very important.

What should I eat?

Vitamin D: Although vitamin D does not directly contribute to bone’s makeup, calcium can not be absorbed properly without it. Consuming vitamin D only through your diet is very challenging. The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D is 600 – 800 IU (international units) per day, while the average adult American consumes only about 150-300 IU.

  • Fish: Oily or fatty fish contains about 15 percent healthy fat, while non-oily, or white fish contain less than 2 percent. A 3-ounce salmon filet can contain about 450 IU of vitamin D. Dietary sources of vitamin D include oily fish such as: salmon, swordfish, tuna, mackerel, sardines.
  • Mushrooms: Mushrooms can also be a source of vitamin D if they are grown in sunlight. Like humans, mushrooms can produce vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. Brands like Dole have vitamin D rich mushrooms and can provide 400 IUs of vitamin D per 3-ounce serving.
  • Fortified foods: Cow’s milk as well as orange juice can be fortified with vitamin D. An 8-ounce glass of fortified milk can contain 100 IU of vitamin D. Soy and rice milks are usually fortified with the same amount, but check the label beforehand since not all of them contain vitamin D. Fortified orange juice can also contain about 100 IUs of vitamin D, but it depends on each brand. Fortified cereals can also be a great source of vitamin D. Multi Grain Cheerios is a great low calorie option.

Calcium: Like vitamin D, calcium intake is also low for average American adults. The recommended amount of calcium intake per day is 1200 mg, while the average female consumes less than 600 mg. Calcium is not only vital for strong bones and teeth, but can help the body maintain healthy blood vessels and regulate blood pressure.

  • Milk and milk products: Cheese, yogurt, and milk are a great source of calcium. A 6-ounce serving of greek yogurt can provide 200 mg of calcium into your diet.
  • Leafy greens: If your diet restricts you from consuming dairy, dark leafy greens such as collard greens, broccoli rabe, kale, and soy beans are a great alternative. An 8-ounce serving of collard greens provides 360 mg of calcium.
  • Fortified foods: Cow’s milk and orange juice are fortified with not only vitamin D, but calcium as well. Cereals, soy milk, firm tofu and rice milk can also be fortified with calcium. A ½ cup serving of firm tofu provides 861 mg of calcium, which is 86% of the recommended daily value.

Lesser known nutrients: Magnesium, vitamin K, and potassium are micro nutrients that are needed for strong bones. Food sources for magnesium include spinach, soybeans and beans. Vitamin K food sources include brussel sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus. Foods that are rich in potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and avocados.

Other factors: Participating in at least 30 minutes of weight bearing exercise five times a week is beneficial to bone strength. Weight bearing exercise such as strength training, walking, and running help build bone mass and maintain bone density. Avoid smoking as it makes it harder for your body to absorb calcium.

Sources: 

Protect Your Bones with These Essential Nutrients to Maintain Strength and Mobility. (2011, February 1). Women’s Health, 2-2.

Price, C. T., Langford, J. R., & Liporace, F. A. (2012). Essential nutrients for bone health and a review of their availability in the average North American diet.The open orthopedics journal, 6, 143.