The foods you eat can have an impact on your bone health. And, while there are many factors that go into whether or not you’ll develop osteoporosis down the line, your diet is one you can control.
You’ve probably heard that calcium is important for bone health, and that’s true. But there’s more to eating well for your bones than just loading up on milk and cheese. “Several nutrients work together to maximize your bone's health,” registered dietitian Julie Upton, co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This is why we often recommend eating whole foods to get a wide array of nutrients.”
Overall, eating a well-balanced diet with lots of dairy, fish, fruits, and vegetables should do your bones a solid, Frederick Singer, MD, professor of endocrinology and director of the endocrinology and bone disease program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. But there are certain crucial nutrients that you want to make sure you’re getting enough of. Here’s what should be on your regular dietary rotation for bone health:
“Calcium is critical,” Singer says. “It’s important for giving strength to the bone.” Calcium is a major building block of bone tissue — your skeleton makes up 99 percent of your body’s calcium stores, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation. “Calcium works together with vitamin D to build and protect your bones and teeth,” Beth Warren, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
What to eat: You can get calcium from dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, but the nutrient can also be found in some vegetables like collard greens, turnip greens, kale, okra, Chinese cabbage, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and broccoli, Warren says.
How much you need: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that most adults get between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. For reference, a cup of milk contains 305 milligrams of calcium.
While calcium helps build and maintain bones, vitamin D helps your body actually absorb it, Warren explains. Meaning, vitamin D is a crucial component in making sure you’re getting the calcium you need.
What to eat: Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but people largely get this nutrient from sunlight or a supplement. However, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines also contain vitamin D, Warren notes.
How much you need: It’s important to get some vitamin D in your diet, but the NIH says that adults should have no more than 100 micrograms of the nutrient per day.
Magnesium is another nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium, Upton says. “Magnesium is stored in your bones, and research has shown that people with low bone density are also deficient in magnesium,” says Singer. “This is one of the most well-proven nutrients for healthy bones.”
What to eat: Spinach, beet greens, okra, tomato products, artichokes, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and raisins are all good sources of magnesium, Warren says.
How much you need: It’s generally recommended that adults have anywhere from 310 and 420 micrograms of magnesium in their diet every day, per the NIH.
Potassium doesn’t get a lot of attention when it comes to bone-healthy nutrients but “there’s some evidence that it may help with bone density,” Singer says. Specifically, it may help neutralize acids that remove calcium from your body.
What to eat: Tomato products, raisins, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, papaya, oranges, orange juice, bananas, plantains, and prunes, Warren says.
How much you need: The number differs for men and women: Most adult women should strive to have about 2,600 milligrams of potassium daily, while men should aim for 3,400 milligrams, the NIH says.
Bodily inflammation can wreak havoc on your bones, and vitamin C works to combat that. “Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to help temper inflammation that can speed up bone loss,” says Upton. “It also helps vitamin D enhance calcium absorption and it appears to help stimulate bone-forming cells.” Basically, vitamin C can do a lot for your bones.
What to eat: Red peppers, green peppers, oranges, grapefruits, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, papaya, and pineapples are all good sources, says Warren.
How much you need: It’s generally recommended that adults get between 65 and 90 milligrams of vitamin C a day, per the NIH.
Vitamin K “works synergistically with calcium to enhance bone health,” Upton says. It also helps with mineralization of bones, helping you build a stronger frame, Singer explains.
What to eat: Warren recommends loading up on green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, and Brussels sprouts.
How much you need: It’s considered “adequate” if adults get between 90 and 120 micrograms of vitamin K a day, the NIH says.
Overall, Singer stresses that eating for bone health isn’t about loading up on one particular nutrient — it’s about getting a wide variety of these foods in your diet as often as possible. “Bone is a very complicated metabolic organ,” Singer says. “There’s a whole bunch of factors in the diet that may have an effect.”
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