7 Nutrients for Better Bone Health
We all have heard, “Milk builds strong bones,” but why are strong bones important?
There are about 10 million Americans over the age of 50 that have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become weak and brittle and are easily fractured. Another 34 million have low bone mass, a risk factor for both fractures and developing osteoporosis.
While these conditions are common, there is plenty we can do (or should I say eat) to keep our bones strong! Here are 7 key nutrients to include in your diet to keep your bones strong and healthy:
There is always calcium flowing through our blood (serum calcium), but if we are not consuming adequate calcium, then this serum calcium decreases. When this happens, the body signals to the bones to release calcium into the blood. With less calcium in the bones, the result is weakened and easily broken bones. This is why it is important to consume enough calcium every day. Unfortunately, a majority of older adults consume less than 600 mg/day, which is not enough.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): adults ages 19-70: 1000 mg/day; adults age 51 and up: 1200 mg/day.
Food sources: dairy products, canned salmon, almonds, leafy greens (spinach, kale, and turnip greens), seeds (poppy, sesame, chia), and tofu.
2. Vitamin D
Approximately 70% of Americans of all ages are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D and calcium work together; as calcium is being digested and makes its way into the intestines, its interaction with vitamin D assists calcium absorption into the blood stream. Therefore, without enough vitamin D, you can be eating enough calcium, but not absorbing it.
RDA: ages 9-70: 600 IU/day; age 71 and up: 800 IU/day.
Food sources: fatty fish (salmon, swordfish, mackerel, sardines), fortified foods (dairy, cereal), mushrooms and egg yolks. Supplementation with 400-1000 IU/day is recommended.
The main role of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth. Phosphorus works with calcium and vitamin D to keep bones healthy and strong. Dietary intake of phosphorus has been positively associated with bone mineral density and reduced risk for osteoporosis.
RDA: ages 9-18: 1250 mg/day; adults and pregnant or lactating women over age 18: 700 mg/day.
Food sources: phosphorus is mainly found in high protein foods like meat and milk, along with foods that contain sodium phosphate. Typically a diet that includes adequate calcium and protein will provide adequate phosphorus.
Higher intake of magnesium results in higher bone mineral density. This reduces the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. Magnesium also allows for proper calcium and vitamin D regulation.
RDA: females ages 19-30: 310 mg/day; females age 31 and up: 320 mg/day; males ages 19-30 400 mg/day; males age 31 and up: 420 mg/day.
Food sources: chocolate, green vegetables (collards, kale, bok choy, okra) seeds (poppy, sesame, chia) nuts, legumes, potato skins, avocado, and whole grains.
5. Vitamin K
While many of us may have heard the importance of vitamin K for blood clotting, what you may not know about is its importance in controlling bone metabolism. Vitamin K is essential for making osteocalcin, a protein important for maintaining bone strength. It also helps attract calcium to the bone. Studies have also shown that low vitamin K intake is linked to osteoporosis, low bone mass, and risk of fracture.
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI): adult females: 90 mcg/day; adult males: 120 mcg/day.
Food sources: kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, prunes, hard cheeses (gouda, Swiss), chicken, and pork.
6. Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a key role in building strong, healthy bones. It impacts both osteoblasts (bone building cells) & osteoclasts (bone breaking cells). While adequate vitamin A is essential, too much is associated with lower bone density and fractures.
RDA: adult females 700 mcg/day; adult males 900 mcg/day.
Food sources: carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, papaya, liver, eggs, fatty fish, and mango.
While more research is needed to find out how boron keeps bones healthy, there is some evidence that low amounts of boron might lower bone strength. It’s thought that boron might play a role in bone growth and formation by affecting osteoblast/osteoclast activity.
WHO recommends: approximately 1-13 mg/day. There is insufficient data to establish an RDA, ADI, or Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for boron.
Food sources: prunes, avocados, raisins, peaches, almonds, apples, bananas, celery, pears, legumes, and potatoes.
While exercise is not a nutrient, it cannot be left out when talking about bone health!
Weight-bearing exercises help strengthen bones. By putting weight on your bones, a response is triggered that stimulates the bones to build more bone, which in turn, leads to increased bone strength.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises include weightlifting, calisthenics, running, and jumping rope. Resistance bands are great way to include weight-bearing exercises into your day. Just 20 mins a day of modest impact activity or resistance training 3 times a week can improve bone mineral density. Exercise also decreases the risk of falls by improving muscle tone, balance, and coordination.
Now that we know more about the nutrients that help to keep our bones strong, let’s eat our way to better bone health. BONE-appetit!
Written by: Victoria Wesler, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern