When it comes to building strong bones, there are two key nutrients: calcium and vitamin D. Calcium supports your bones and teeth structure, while vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone growth.
These nutrients are important early in life, but they may also help as you age. If you develop osteoporosis, a disease characterized by brittle and breaking bones, getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D may slow the disease and prevent fractures. Here are the foods for strong bones.
1. Yogurt for Strong Bones
Most people get their vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, but certain foods, like yogurt, are fortified with vitamin D.
One cup of yogurt can be a creamy way to get your daily calcium. A fat-free plain yogurt that contains 30% of your calcium and 20% of your vitamin D for the day.
Vitamin D is rarely found in nature. However, fatty fish such as salmon are probably the best source out there. One serving of salmon will provide you all the vitamin D you need in a day. Canned salmon includes the softer (edible) bones of the fish, meaning it’s loaded with calcium.
3. Cheddar Cheese
Just 1.5 oz. of reduced-fat cheddar cheese will meet about 30 percent of your daily recommendation for calcium. Add a slice to sandwiches, salads, or enjoy as a snack with crackers.
No surprise here, milk is another excellent source of calcium. An 8-oz. glass of milk contains about one-third of your daily calcium needs. (Skim or low-fat is best.) Most brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, another nutrient essential for bone health. (More on vitamin D in a minute). If you’re not a dairy fan or are unable to tolerate lactose, look for a fortified soymilk, or try a lactose-free milk, like Lactaid.
5. Almond Butter
Of all the tree nuts you can find at the grocery store, almonds have the highest amount of calcium per serving. You can get the same calcium benefits in butter form. As a bonus, almond butter has no cholesterol and is lower in fat and higher in protein than peanut butter.
A great non-dairy source of calcium is tofu. Just one-half cup of firm tofu fortified with calcium has about 20 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium. (Not every tofu is made this way, so look for labels that declare it’s a good source of calcium.) Tofu is also a good source of protein and a wonderful addition to any stir-fry.
Tuna is another fatty fish loaded with healthful vitamin D. It also contains high amounts of other beneficial nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. And because it comes canned, it’s easy to find, easy on the wallet, and simple to add to your diet.
8. Grapefruit for Strong Bones
Instead of an apple a day, researchers at Texas A & M University are finding that grapefruit — both the juice and pulp — might be just the daily medicine needed to boost bone health. In 2006 these scientists reported that animals given a daily dose of grapefruit juice or orange juice (with the pulp left in) in the morning had stronger bones than counterparts who drank no citrus juice.
Later studies (done by the same researchers in 2008) specifically pinpointed grapefruit juice for its ability to enhance bone mineral deposits and improved bone density. They also discovered the pulp of red grapefruit had the ability to slow down the rate of bone loss and spark higher bone mineral deposition, factors that improve bone quality. Researchers suspect high antioxidant levels in grapefruit could be responsible. One precaution: grapefruit doesn’t mix well with some medications, like statins (for lowering blood cholesterol), calcium channel blockers (for heart disease/blood pressure) and antihistamines. Compounds in the fruit negatively interact with these drugs and can cause serious problems.
Good news for breakfast lovers: eggs contain a nice amount of vitamin D and can improve bone health. Vitamin D is found in the yolks only, so if you tend to eat egg white omelets, you’ll have to get your vitamin D elsewhere. Another breakfast item, orange juice, is often fortified with vitamin D and calcium.
10. Olive Oil
It’s a well-established heart-healthy benefit of the Mediterranean diet. But Spanish researchers wondered if olive oil could also be one of the reasons why the incidence of osteoporosis is lower in the Mediterranean basin. They answered that question in a 2012 study of 127 middle-aged and older men (55 to 80 years old) who followed one of three diets for two years. The findings: Men eating a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil had higher levels of circulating osteocalcin, a marker of bone health, than men in the group assigned to a nut-rich Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet.
“The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of osteoporosis in experimental and in vitro models,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. José Manuel Fernández-Real of Hospital Dr. Josep Trueta in Girona, Spain. “This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans.”
There’s a Catch 22 with the findings: High levels of osteocalcin don’t necessarily equate to increased bone density or a lower risk of fracture. They’re simply a marker of good bone health. Bottom line: It’s a bit early to crown olive oil as a magic bone elixir, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Yet, its overall health benefits make olive oil “an excellent choice to add to your diet.”
Of all the non-dairy sources of calcium out there, broccoli is second to dark, leafy greens. And broccoli isn’t only bone-healthy — it’s an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and nutrients that contain cancer-fighting properties.
12. Bananas for Strong Bones
Bananas are a well-known potassium gold mine, but don’t often make lists of foods for healthy bones. However, at 422 milligrams for a medium fruit, they’re not to be ignored.
13. Walnuts and Flaxseed Oil
While much is made of the omega 3 fatty acids in fish, a 2007 Nutrition Journal study finds that plant-based omega 3 fats, also known as alpha-linolenic acids, could help keep bones strong. In this study, researchers at Penn State fed high amounts of walnuts (as well as walnut granola, honey walnut butter and walnut pesto) and flax oil to a small group of overweight, mostly middle-aged adults. They reported a decrease in the rate of bone breakdown and noticed that bone formation stayed constant.
How so? The scientists measured biological markers of bone health, ones that show up in the blood when bones are being built and ones that show up in the blood when bones break down. “If less bone is being resorbed and the same amount of bone is being created, then there is a positive balance for bone health,” said Dr. Rebecca Corwin, associate professor of nutrition. She and fellow researchers also point out that “recent epidemiologic data suggest that the effects of dietary fats on bone health may be particularly strong in men.”