Bone Health

healthy bonesHealthy bones are an important part of good health since the skeleton is the frame of our bodies and the calcium in our bones acts as a reserve for vital functions.  Women over fifty years of age are at the highest risk for a broken bone due to osteoporosis which is characterized by low bone mass and reduced bone strength.  Osteoporosis is known as the “silent disease” because many do not known they have the condition unless they have a bone density test or suffer from a fracture.  Genetic factors play a major role in the risk of osteoporosis.  The most controllable risk factors that effect bone mass are exercise, calcium and vitamin D.  This article will focus on nutrition for bone health.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include female gender, having Asian or Caucasian descent, having a small frame size, advanced age, family history, low body mass index, estrogen deficiency (menopause or amenorrhea), excessive use of alcohol (more than 2 drinks per day), high sodium diet (more than 2,300 mg per day which is equal to one teaspoon), smoking, weight loss surgery, eating disorders, low calcium diet, low vitamin D intake and sedentary lifestyle.  In addition, some medications such as corticosteroid medications are damaging to bone density.

Nutrition for bone health:

  • Calcium: Calcium is the mineral that is the building block of bone and therefore helps to prevent bone loss and osteoporotic fractures.  Milk, yogurt and cheese are the most effective way to get enough calcium.  Although vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli contain calcium they also have a substance called oxalic acid which makes calcium absorption difficult.  Calcium can also be found in sardines and canned salmon with bones.  If you do not get enough calcium from diet you need to take a supplement.  Most adults need about 1,000 – 1,200 mg daily.  One glass of milk contains 300 mg.
  • Vitamin D: Milk, yogurt and cheese are fortified with vitamin D.  Fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines contain vitamin D.  In addition, skin exposure to UVB from sunlight will produce vitamin D.  Vitamin D is required for calcium to be absorbed.
  • Protein: Protein is an important part of bone tissue.  Protein is found in eggs, meat, fish, poultry and plant proteins such as beans, nuts and soy.  Dairy products are also a good source of protein.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps direct calcium to bone and is found in dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Zinc/Phosphorus: Meat, fish and poultry are good sources of zinc and phosphorus which are required for bone health.  However, excess phosphorus will reduce calcium absorption.   Large amounts of phosphorus are found in processed foods and beverages such as soda, commercial baked goods, flavored waters, ice tea, fruit punch, bottled coffee, convenience foods such as frozen chicken nuggets, and meats that have been injected with phosphates to keep them juicy.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K is found in dark green leafy vegetables and is an important nutrient for healthy bones.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of bone promoting nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K.  They also contain phytochemicals that protect the body from disease including osteoporosis.


Although genetic contributors to bone loss can not be changed nutrition can make a significant impact on bone density.  A healthy diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, adequate protein, vitamin D and calcium are essential for bone health.