One of the most important things I recommend to my patients for good health as they age is ensuring that their bones are strong. The easiest way to do this is through nutrition – what you eat everyday can have a big effect on how healthy your bones are.
Osteoporosis is a concern for women over age 40, but the truth is, anyone of any age can be diagnosed with the bone weakening disease simply because their diet is deficient in the right nutrients to build strong bones.
Let’s look at the vitamins and minerals involved in building good bone health and then I’ll give you some bone-friendly foods that contain these. It’s pretty easy, really, to add many of these foods to your daily diet, some of them you may already be eating anyway.
Vitamins and Minerals for Healthy Bones
The following vitamins and minerals are crucial to good bone health:
Calcium: Bones need calcium and a lot of it, whether it comes from dairy or non-dairy sources. However, if you are allergic to dairy or prefer not to eat it for other reasons, there are other high calcium sources in foods you can eat (see Healthy Bone Foods list below).
Collagen: This is a protein-substance that creates the “matrix” of your bones. You can take collagen supplements in pill or liquid form, but one of the best ways to build your own collagen is by taking adequate amounts of Vitamin C (see below).
Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps build collagen which maintains strong bone density. Recent studies show that elderly men have reduced bone loss by adding 1,000 mg of Vitamin C to their diets a day.
Vitamin D3: Insufficient Vitamin D3 also contributes to bone density loss. Recent research has shown that most people are deficient in D3. A blood test can measure your Vitamin D levels. It may be wise to supplement D3 in the diet especially in winter. Depending on your blood results, 500-1,000 IU should be sufficient, or your doctor can recommend a higher level if needed.
Magnesium: Magnesium is a support mineral to help keep bones strong. It helps in the absorption of calcium.
Omega-3 and 6 Fats: Recent studies show that these fatty acids reduce inflammation and build healthy bones.
Protein: Your body needs adequate protein (about 0.3-0.5 grams per lb of body weight) to build and repair all its tissues, including bones. However, too much animal protein (like beef and pork) in your diet can actually leech calcium from your bones as it contains a lot of phosphorus. Try to balance your protein sources between animal and vegetable (see Healthy Bones Food list below).
Zinc: Recent research has shown that adding zinc supplements may help prevent or treat osteoporosis, as zinc has been found to stimulate bone formation and stops bone loss in animals.
Healthy Bone Foods
Calcium Sources: These include almond and soy milks which have almost as much calcium as cow’s milk, legumes (pinto beans, black-eyed peas, soybeans), vegetables (collard, turnip and mustard greens, kale, spinach), calcium fortified orange juice, canned sardines, apricots, figs.
Vitamin C Sources: You can get Vitamin C from either citrus fruits, or vegetables (bok choy, tomatoes, red cabbage, chili peppers, and guava). How about a veggie pizza, mozzarella cheese/tomato sauce pizza topped with chili peppers, spinach, a little red cabbage, and whatever else you can think of? Combines both calcium and Vitamin C!
Vitamin D Sources: The best food sources of D3 are salmon, tuna, mackerel, and milk.
Magnesium: The best food sources of magnesium are the same ones that contain a lot of calcium, so you get 2 minerals in one food when you eat legumes, greens, and spinach!
Omega-3, 6 Sources: Olive oil, fish, whole grains, vegetables, linoleic acid, evening primrose oil supplements.
Protein: A little animal protein (beef, pork, chicken) go a long way. Add more vegetable source protein to your diet in the form of beans and peas; grains such as quinoa, amaranth) to avoid too much phosphorus in your diet.
Zinc: Good food sources of zinc are beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey, liver, egg yolks, milk, and oysters. Lima beans, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, pecans, mustard, ginger, are some good vegetable sources of zinc, but less is absorbed than animal sources.
Ensuring bone health should start early in life but it’s never too late to strengthen your bones against fractures. Ask your doctor for blood tests to determine your Vitamin D and calcium levels. These numbers can tell you if you have any deficiencies that you need to shore up.
By adding many of these bone-healthy foods into your diet everyday and getting adequate bone-building exercise several times a week, you can keep your bones healthy long into your older years!