- 10 Natural Ways to Build Healthy Bones
- Osteoporosis Diet & Nutrition: Foods for Bone Health
- Good-for-Your-Bones Foods
- More Examples of Bone Healthy Food
- Beans (Legumes)
- Meat and Other High Protein Foods
- Salty Foods
- Spinach and Other Foods with Oxalates
- Wheat Bran
- Soft Drinks
- More Information
10 Natural Ways to Build Healthy Bones
Building healthy bones is extremely important.
Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass.
If not enough bone mass is created during this time or bone loss occurs later in life, you have an increased risk of developing fragile bones that break easily (1).
Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help you build strong bones and maintain them as you age.
Here are 10 natural ways to build healthy bones.
Vegetables are great for your bones.
They're one of the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. In addition, some studies suggest that vitamin C's antioxidant effects may protect bone cells from damage (2).
Vegetables also seem to increase bone mineral density, also known as bone density.
Bone density is a measurement of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in your bones. Both osteopenia (low bone mass) and osteoporosis (brittle bones) are conditions characterized by low bone density.
A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralization during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults (3, 4, 5).
Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women.
A study in women over 50 found those who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to women who rarely ate them (6).
One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults is increased bone turnover, or the process of breaking down and forming new bone (7).
In a three-month study, women who consumed more than nine servings of broccoli, cabbage, parsley or other plants high in bone-protective antioxidants had a decrease in bone turnover (8).
Summary: Consuming a diet high in vegetables has been shown to help create healthy bones during childhood and protect bone mass in young adults and older women.
Engaging in specific types of exercise can help you build and maintain strong bones.
One of the best types of activity for bone health is weight-bearing or high-impact exercise, which promotes the formation of new bone.
Studies in children, including those with type 1 diabetes, have found that this type of activity increases the amount of bone created during the years of peak bone growth (9, 10).
In addition, it can be extremely beneficial for preventing bone loss in older adults.
Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation (11, 12, 13, 14).
However, one study found little improvement in bone density among older men who performed the highest level of weight-bearing exercise over nine months (15).
Strength-training exercise is not only beneficial for increasing muscle mass. It may also help protect against bone loss in younger and older women, including those with osteoporosis, osteopenia or breast cancer (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).
One study in men with low bone mass found that although both resistance training and weight-bearing exercise increased bone density in several areas of the body, only resistance training had this effect in the hip (21).
Summary: Performing weight-bearing and resistance training exercises can help increase bone formation during bone growth and protect bone health in older adults, including those with low bone density.
Getting enough protein is important for healthy bones. In fact, about 50% of bone is made of protein.
Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may also affect rates of bone formation and breakdown (22).
However, concerns have also been raised that high-protein diets leach calcium from bones in order to counteract increased acidity in the blood.
Nevertheless, studies have found that this doesn't occur in people who consume up to 100 grams of protein daily, as long as this is balanced with plenty of plant foods and adequate calcium intake (23, 24).
In fact, research suggests that older women, in particular, appear to have better bone density when they consume higher amounts of protein (25, 26, 27).
In a large, six-year observational study of over 144,000 postmenopausal women, higher protein intake was linked to a lower risk of forearm fractures and significantly higher bone density in the hip, spine and total body (27).
What's more, diets containing a greater percentage of calories from protein may help preserve bone mass during weight loss.
In a one-year study, women who consumed 86 grams of protein daily on a calorie-restricted diet lost less bone mass from their arm, spine, hip and leg areas than women who consumed 60 grams of protein per day (28).
Summary: A low protein intake can lead to bone loss, while a high protein intake can help protect bone health during aging and weight loss.
Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, and it's the main mineral found in your bones.
Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it's important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength.
The RDI for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most people, although teens need 1,300 mg and older women require 1,200 mg (29).
However, the amount of calcium your body actually absorbs can vary greatly.
Interestingly, if you eat a meal containing more than 500 mg of calcium, your body will absorb much less of it than if you consume a lower amount.
Therefore, it's best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day by including one high-calcium food from this list at each meal.
It's also best to get calcium from foods rather than supplements.
A recent 10-year study of 1,567 people found that although high calcium intake from foods decreased the risk of heart disease overall, those who took calcium supplements had a 22% greater risk of heart disease (30).
Summary: Calcium is the main mineral found in bones and must be consumed every day to protect bone health. Spreading your calcium intake throughout the day will optimize absorption.
Vitamin D and vitamin K are extremely important for building strong bones.
Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Achieving a blood level of at least 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) is recommended for protecting against osteopenia, osteoporosis and other bone diseases (31).
Indeed, studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss than people who get enough (32, 33).
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting about one billion people worldwide (34).
You may be able to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and food sources such as fatty fish, liver and cheese. However, many people need to supplement with up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain optimal levels.
Vitamin K2 supports bone health by modifying osteocalcin, a protein involved in bone formation. This modification enables osteocalcin to bind to minerals in bones and helps prevent the loss of calcium from bones.
The two most common forms of vitamin K2 are MK-4 and MK-7. MK-4 exists in small amounts in liver, eggs and meat. Fermented foods cheese, sauerkraut and a soybean product called natto contain MK-7.
A small study in healthy young women found that MK-7 supplements raised vitamin K2 blood levels more than MK-4 (35).
Nevertheless, other studies have shown that supplementing with either form of vitamin K2 supports osteocalcin modification and increases bone density in children and postmenopausal women (36, 37, 38, 39).
In a study of women 50–65 years of age, those who took MK-4 maintained bone density, whereas the group that received a placebo showed a significant decrease in bone density after 12 months (39).
However, another 12-month study found no significant difference in bone loss between women whose diets were supplemented with natto and those who did not take natto (40).
Summary: Getting adequate amounts of vitamins D and K2 from food or supplements may help protect bone health.
Dropping calories too low is never a good idea.
In addition to slowing down your metabolism, creating rebound hunger and causing muscle mass loss, it can also be harmful to bone health.
Studies have shown that diets providing fewer than 1,000 calories per day can lead to lower bone density in normal-weight, overweight or obese individuals (41, 42, 43, 44).
In one study, obese women who consumed 925 calories per day for four months experienced a significant loss of bone density from their hip and upper thigh region, regardless of whether they performed resistance training (44).
To build and maintain strong bones, follow a well-balanced diet that provides at least 1,200 calories per day. It should include plenty of protein and foods rich in vitamins and minerals that support bone health.
Summary: Diets providing too few calories have been found to reduce bone density, even when combined with resistance exercise. Consume a balanced diet with at least 1,200 calories daily to preserve bone health.
While there isn't a lot of research on the topic yet, early evidence suggests that collagen supplements may help protect bone health.
Collagen is the main protein found in bones. It contains the amino acids glycine, proline and lysine, which help build bone, muscle, ligaments and other tissues.
Collagen hydrolysate comes from animal bones and is commonly known as gelatin. It has been used to relieve joint pain for many years.
Although most studies have looked at collagen's effects on joint conditions arthritis, it appears to have beneficial effects on bone health as well (45, 46).
A 24-week study found that giving postmenopausal women with osteoporosis a combination of collagen and the hormone calcitonin led to a significant reduction in markers of collagen breakdown (46).
Summary: Emerging evidence suggests that supplementing with collagen may help preserve bone health by reducing collagen breakdown.
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health.
For example, being underweight increases the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
This is especially the case in postmenopausal women who have lost the bone-protective effects of estrogen.
In fact, low body weight is the main factor contributing to reduced bone density and bone loss in this age group (47, 48).
On the other hand, some studies suggest that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight (49, 50).
While weight loss typically results in some bone loss, it is usually less pronounced in obese individuals than normal-weight individuals (51).
Overall, repeatedly losing and regaining weight appears particularly detrimental to bone health, as well as losing a large amount of weight in a short time.
One recent study found that bone loss during weight loss was not reversed when weight was regained, which suggests that repeated cycles of losing and gaining weight may lead to significant bone loss over a person's lifetime (52).
Maintaining a stable normal or slightly higher than normal weight is your best bet when it comes to protecting your bone health.
Summary: Being too thin or too heavy can negatively affect bone health. Furthermore, maintaining a stable weight, rather than repeatedly losing and regaining it, can help preserve bone density.
Calcium isn't the only mineral that's important for bone health. Several others also play a role, including magnesium and zinc.
Magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into the active form that promotes calcium absorption (53).
An observational study of over 73,000 women found that those who consumed 400 mg of magnesium per day tended to have 2–3% higher bone density than women who consumed half this amount daily (54).
Although magnesium is found in small amounts in most foods, there are only a few excellent food sources. Supplementing with magnesium glycinate, citrate or carbonate may be beneficial.
Zinc is a trace mineral needed in very small amounts. It helps make up the mineral portion of your bones.
In addition, zinc promotes the formation of bone-building cells and prevents the excessive breakdown of bone.
Studies have shown that zinc supplements support bone growth in children and the maintenance of bone density in older adults (55, 56).
Good sources of zinc include beef, shrimp, spinach, flaxseeds, oysters and pumpkin seeds.
Summary: Magnesium and zinc play key roles in achieving peak bone mass during childhood and maintaining bone density during aging.
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
They've also been shown to help protect against bone loss during the aging process (57, 58, 59).
In addition to including omega-3 fats in your diet, it's also important to make sure your balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats isn't too high.
In one large study of over 1,500 adults aged 45–90, those who consumed a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids tended to have lower bone density than people with a lower ratio of the two fats (58).
Generally speaking, it's best to aim for an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4:1 or lower.
In addition, although most studies have looked at the benefits of long-chain omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, one controlled study found that omega-3 plant sources helped decrease bone breakdown and increase bone formation (59).
Plant sources of omega-3 fats include chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Summary: Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to promote the formation of new bone and protect against bone loss in older adults.
Bone health is important at all stages of life.
However, having strong bones is something people tend to take for granted, as symptoms often don't appear until bone loss is advanced.
Fortunately, there are many nutrition and lifestyle habits that can help build and maintain strong bones — and it's never too early to start.
Osteoporosis Diet & Nutrition: Foods for Bone Health
The food that you eat can affect your bones. Learning about the foods that are rich in calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients that are important for your bone health and overall health will help you make healthier food choices every day. Use the chart below for examples of the different types of food you should be eating every day.
If you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables, you should get enough of the nutrients you need every day, but if you’re not getting the recommended amount from food alone, you may need to complement your diet by taking multivitamins or supplements.
|Dairy products such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese||Calcium. Some dairy products are fortified with Vitamin D.|
|Canned sardines and salmon (with bones)||Calcium|
|Fatty varieties such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines||Vitamin D|
|Fruits and vegetables|
|Collard greens, turnip greens, kale, okra, Chinese cabbage, dandelion greens, mustard greens and broccoli.||Calcium|
|Spinach, beet greens, okra, tomato products, artichokes, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens and raisins.||Magnesium|
|Tomato products, raisins, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, papaya, oranges, orange juice, bananas, plantains and prunes.||Potassium|
|Red peppers, green peppers, oranges, grapefruits, broccoli, strawberries, brussels sprouts, papaya and pineapples.||Vitamin C|
|Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens and brussel sprouts.||Vitamin K|
|Calcium and vitamin D are sometimes added to certain brands of juices, breakfast foods, soy milk, rice milk, cereals, snacks and breads.||Calcium, Vitamin D|
Leafy greens and other nutrient-rich foods are good for your bones.
More Examples of Bone Healthy Food
Recent research has found that olive oil, soy beans, blueberries and foods rich in omega-3s, fish oil and flaxseed oil may also have bone boosting benefits.
While additional research is needed before the link between these foods and bone health can definitively be made, the many overall health benefits of these foods make them excellent choices to add to your diet.
Studies have also shown that a moderate intake of certain alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages wine, beer and tea may also be good for your bones. More research is also needed to better help us to better understand the relationship between these drinks and bone health.
While beans contain calcium, magnesium, fiber and other nutrients, they are also high in substances called phytates. Phytates interfere with your body’s ability to absorb the calcium that is contained in beans. You can reduce the phytate level by soaking beans in water for several hours and then cooking them in fresh water.
Meat and Other High Protein Foods
It’s important to get enough, but not too much protein for bone health and overall health. Many older adults do not get enough protein in their diets and this may be harmful to bones.
However, special high protein diets that contain multiple servings of meat and protein with each meal can also cause the body to lose calcium. You can make up for this loss by getting enough calcium for your body’s needs.
For example dairy products, although high in protein, also contain calcium that is important for healthy bones.
Eating foods that have a lot of salt (sodium) causes your body to lose calcium and can lead to bone loss.
Try to limit the amount of processed foods, canned foods and salt added to the foods you eat each day. To learn if a food is high in sodium, look at the Nutrition Facts label.
if it lists 20% or more for the % Daily Value, it is high in sodium. Aim to get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Spinach and Other Foods with Oxalates
Your body doesn’t absorb calcium well from foods that are high in oxalates (oxalic acid) such as spinach. Other foods with oxalates are rhubarb, beet greens and certain beans. These foods contain other healthy nutrients, but they just shouldn’t be counted as sources of calcium.
beans, wheat bran contains high levels of phytates which can prevent your body from absorbing calcium. However, un beans 100% wheat bran is the only food that appears to reduce the absorption of calcium in other foods eaten at the same time.
For example, when you have milk and 100% wheat bran cereal together, your body can absorb some, but not all, of the calcium from the milk. The wheat bran in other foods breads is much less concentrated and not ly to have a noticeable impact on calcium absorption.
If you take calcium supplements, you may want to take them two or more hours before or after eating 100% wheat bran.
Drinking heavily can lead to bone loss. Limit alcohol to no more than 2 – 3 drinks per day.
Coffee, tea and soft drinks (sodas) contain caffeine, which may decrease calcium absorption and contribute to bone loss. Choose these drinks in moderation.
Drinking more than three cups of coffee every day may interfere with calcium absorption and cause bone loss.
Some studies suggest that colas, but not other soft drinks, are associated with bone loss. While more research will help us to better understand the link between soft drinks and bone health, here is what we know:
- The carbonation in soft drinks does not cause any harm to bone.
- The caffeine and phosphorous commonly found in colas may contribute to bone loss.
- calcium, phosphorous is a part of the bones. It is listed as an ingredient in colas, some other soft drinks and processed foods as “phosphate” or “phosphoric acid.”
- Some experts say that Americans get too much phosphorous, while others believe that it is not a problem as long as people get enough calcium. The harm to bone may actually be caused when people choose soft drinks over milk and calcium-fortified beverages.
- Luckily you can help make up for any calcium lost from these beverages by getting enough calcium to meet your body’s needs.
To learn more about other foods that may be good for your bones, visit PubMed.gov, an online service of the US National Library of Medicine, to find research studies on nutrition and bone health.