You live with them. Sure, sometimes they hurt you, but they’ve always been there for you in the end. They hold you up, help you try new things, and support you in everything you do. Your bones have always done their best to treat you well. But do you do the same for them?
If you’re healthy, eat well, and exercise regularly, you’re probably under the impression that you don’t even need to worry about bone health. If you haven’t been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it means your bones are healthy… right?
Understanding the sheer scope of responsibilities that the 206 bones in our bodies take on makes it easy to see why they may become weak over time. They provide the framework for our bodies, hold the weight of our muscles and organs, and innervate every movement we make.
The truth is this: an estimated 43 million Americans are at risk for developing osteoporosis. And guess what? You might be one of them.
Maximize your bone health with nutrition
Many of us grew up in the generation where drinking milk at dinner was non-negotiable—and for a legitimate reason. Your maximum bone density is reached around the time you turn 30 years old, and after that it becomes even more important to maintain that density. It doesn’t help that our tolerance for things like lactose and dairy tend to decrease as we grow older, making it easy to push bone health to the backburner.
Calcium is not the only important nutrient to consider though. Many nutrients have been studied to determine their relationship to bone health. By incorporating a wide variety of these foods into your diet, and supplementing some of these nutrients when warranted, you can set yourself up for healthy bones well past the age of 30!
Related nutrients with the strongest research
As the major component of bones, you want to make sure you get enough to maintain that structure. Intake below what’s recommended for your age and gender can trigger your body to take what it needs from the place you care about most: your bones.
- Found in: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, fish like salmon and sardines, milk alternatives like soy milk and almond milk, trace amounts in leafy greens
- Recommended dietary allowance (RDA): 1000 mg/day; 1200 mg/day for those over 50
A fat-soluble nutrient essential for human survival and overall well-being, yet more than half the population is deficient. Low exposure to sunlight, time of year, where you live, and age all play a role in your vitamin D status. Without it, it’s very difficult for your body to absorb calcium, which is why you need to make sure you get enough.
- Found in: Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna), cheese, egg yolk, shiitake mushrooms
- RDA: 600 IU/day; 800 IU for those over 70
Considering that 60% of this nutrient is stored in your bones, getting the perfect amount is critical. Magnesium indirectly regulates calcium homeostasis, so poor intake can lead to lower calcium levels, and therefore less bone formation. Low magnesium intake can promote inflammation, and inflammation stimulates osteoclast (bone-destroying) activity. Despite so much evidence supporting that inadequate magnesium can lead to osteoporosis, too high magnesium intake has also been associated with higher fracture rate among older individuals, which is why it’s important to get exactly what you need.
- Found in: Leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, dairy products, magnesium-fortified foods
- RDA: 360-420 mg/day depending on the stage of life
Related nutrients with strong research
An important component of bones that stimulates osteoblast (bone-forming) activity. Too high levels of phosphorus inhibit this activity and might result in cell death. Inadequate intake might ultimately cause poor bone mineralization.
- Found in: Meat and milk, whole-grains, trace amounts in fruits and vegetables
- Recommended Daily Intake (RDI): 700 mg/day
Zinc stimulates osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and inhibits osteoclasts (bone-destroying cells). Appropriate intake can restore bone loss and promote overall health.
- Found in: Shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), animal products, wheat, dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
- RDA: 8-12 mg/day depending on the stage of life
Maintaining an equilibrium of body fluid and electrolytes, this mineral is very important for your bones. As an electrolyte, potassium has been shown to play a role in slowing or preventing osteoclast activity. It’s possible that it counteracts excessive acid in the diet by preventing urinary calcium excretion.
- Found in: fruits like bananas, prunes, and oranges, vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and artichokes
- RDA: 3400 mg/day (men), 2600 mg/day (women)
Vitamin A, known for its importance in vision and growth, has been linked to bone health in relation to diet. Low intake of vitamin A is correlated with an increased rate of bone abnormalities. However, too much can cause hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood) and promotes osteoclast activity.
- Found in: Animal products like fish and eggs, vegetables, and fruit
- RDA: 900 mcg (men), 700 mcg (women)
Related nutrients that may be associated with bone health
Copper, vitamin K, selenium, vitamin E, boron, vitamin B12
These nutrients have been shown to be correlated with bone health, but the evidence is not yet conclusive.
While many people get enough of these nutrients through diet alone, those who might be at risk for deficiency include vegans, vegetarians, those who suffer from a chronic disease such as IBD or Crohn’s, and those who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery.
No matter your age, there’s no better time than now to show those good old bones that you care about them. While not all vitamins and minerals contribute the same amount to your bone health, it’s clear that a diet that includes all of the above will go a long way towards keeping you healthy and strong. That can be easier said than done, which is where supplementing with certain nutrients may be helpful depending on your diet and lifestyle.
Eat well, find out more about your nutrient needs, and take a moment to give your bones a little extra attention this week (yep, all 206 of them).
Curious where your nutrient levels stand and how that relates to your bone health? Check out the Baze Starter Kit, which gives you an in-depth look at your nutrient levels and allows you to talk directly with a Baze dietitian about your results.
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