You are your best ally when it comes to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. What you eat plays an important role in determining your bone health. Specifically, consuming adequate amounts of calcium (1000 mg/day for adults ages 19-50) and vitamin D (600 IU/day for adults ages 19-50) is essential for strong bones. Magnesium and vitamin K are also important for bone health.
If you live in northern areas of the US where you don’t get much exposure to natural sunlight in the winter months, at least 600 IU per day of vitamin D is a good place to start.
Calcium can help to build stronger, denser bones early in life and keep bones healthy as we grow older. It is a mineral that is essential for life, yet the majority of Americans do not get adequate calcium on a daily basis. Some of the best foods for strong bones are those that are calcium-rich. These include:
Yogurt. Plain low fat and fat free yogurt are excellent sources of calcium. Some brands contain about 40% of daily calcium needs based on an 8 oz. serving. Plus yogurt is a tasty and versatile food. Have it for breakfast topped with 2 tbsp granola, as a snack on its own, or create a terrific healthy dessert using fruit salad and a honey-yogurt sauce.
Milk. No surprise here, milk is another excellent source of calcium. An 8 oz. glass of skim milk contains about 1/3 of daily calcium needs. Also, most brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, another nutrient essential for bone health. (See more on vitamin D below). If you’re not a dairy fan or are unable to tolerate lactose, look for a fortified soymilk. Don’t like plain milk? Try a delicious breakfast smoothie or look for a juice that is fortified with calcium (there are lots of OJ brands that now have added calcium).
Cheddar cheese. Just 1.5 oz. of low fat cheddar cheese will meet about 30% of daily recommendation for calcium. Add a slice of low fat cheddar to sandwiches, salads, or have as a snack with crackers.
Tofu. A great non-dairy source of calcium is tofu. Just 1/2 cup of firm tofu fortified with calcium has about 20% of the daily recommendation for calcium. Tofu is also a good source of protein and a wonderful addition to any stir-fry.
Vitamin D also plays a critical role in building and protecting your bones. Your body requires vitamin D to absorb calcium. Studies show that people with low levels of vitamin D have lower bone density or bone mass. They are also more likely to break bones when they are older. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods. However, increasingly foods are being fortified with this very important nutrient.
Some good food sources of vitamin D are:
Salmon. Salmon is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D. Just 3.5 oz. of cooked salmon supplies about 90% of your daily vitamin D needs. In addition to its vitamin D, salmon is a great source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Try to have at least one salmon dish every week.
Canned tuna. If weekly fresh fish is out of your budget, an economical source of vitamin D is canned tuna. 3oz. of canned tuna contains approximately 50% of your daily vitamin D requirement. Much has been written about mercury levels in some fish and shellfish, like tuna. However most experts agree that the benefits of moderate fish consumption (up to 12 oz. of low mercury fish per week) far outweigh the risks. Canned “light” tuna is lower in mercury than “white” albacore, so when choosing between the two, stick with the light variety.
Fortified cereals and margarines. Some margarines and ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with vitamin D. Check the labels and look for products that have at least 10% of the daily value of this important nutrient.
The mineral magnesium provides many functions within the body, and one of them is to help keep bones strong. Eating a variety of foods can help to ensure adequate magnesium intake. Specifically, the following foods are high in magnesium:
Almonds. Just one ounce of almonds provides about 20% of your daily magnesium needs. Almonds are terrific on their own, or as a topping for cereal, yogurt, or salads.
Soybeans. Soybeans are another excellent source of magnesium. About 1/2 cup cooked will meet approximately 20% of your daily magnesium needs. Plain steamed soybeans make a great snack. Or you can incorporate them in to salads and stir-frys.
Leafy greens. Recent studies indicate that vitamin K may help prevent bone resorption and adequate dietary intake is likely necessary to prevent bone loss. Vitamin K needs can be met by consuming a diet rich in leafy greens. Some of the best vitamin K sources are kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and broccoli.
Aside from meeting your nutritional requirements, a critical component of staying strong is strength training. Strength training at least twice a week helps keep bones strong and also slow muscle loss as you age. The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 8 to 10 strength training exercises, 2x per week, that incorporate all six of the major muscle groups – chest, shoulders, arms, back, abdomen and legs. So eat up and pump up!