Which Nutrients Support Bone Health
We all know that a chunk of cheese and a glass of milk are good for our bones. But there’s much more to bone health than chowing down on dairy. In truth, you need a host of nutrients to future proof your bones and keep you mobile. Besides refining your exercise regime, paying close attention to your lifestyle, watching your weight, and keeping an eagle eye on your hormonal health, ensuring your diet is abundant in the following nutrients is one of the best weapons for bone health.
Everyone’s familiar with calcium’s age-old, bone-supporting reputation. Yes, the TV ads were right: calcium does indeed help your bones grow big and strong. For starters, calcium is the main mineral found in your bones. And since your body needs this nutrient for countless biological functions – especially where the nervous system is concerned – it’s leached from your bones if you’re deficient. You see, when your dietary intake of calcium is low, hormones trigger something called ‘calcium resorption’ from the bones – a process that essentially disintegrates your bone, releasing calcium back into the blood, thereby maintaining calcium homeostasis. As you can imagine, this doesn’t bode well for your body. Now can you see why calcium and bone health are so synonymous? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is 700mg per day for most people.
Eat it: Mum was right when she told you dairy products are brilliant bone food. Besides making milk and cheese mainstays of your bone-supporting arsenal, be mindful that calcium can be found in a range of other foods, too: tofu, canned fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), nuts, seeds, figs, and other fortified food and drink are also chock-full of this mineral. Learn more about the importance of calcium for bone health here.
Otherwise known as the ‘sunshine nutrient’, vitamin D is also vitally important for bones. In fact, when it comes to bone health, some would even argue this vitamin is just as crucial as calcium. Let’s have a glance at the science: calcium and vitamin D have a reciprocal relationship; while calcium supports and sustains bones, vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium. So, even if your body is teeming with calcium, it’s pretty much futile if you’re vitamin D stores are dry. Indeed, studies reveal adults with poor vitamin D stores generally have lower bone density and are more vulnerable to bone lossi. Adults should aim for 10mcg of vitamin D every day, all year round. Learn more about the importance of vitamin D for bone health here.
Eat it: As the name would suggest, the best way to obtain vitamin D is from the sun. When your skin is directly exposed to sunlight – in moderation, of course – your body is able to synthesize vitamin D3. Trouble is, as we Brits know, the sun isn’t so readily available in winter months. With this in mind, try to load up on foods rich in vitamin D: egg yolks, oily fish (tuna, salmon, and mackerel), cheese, as well as fortified foods like orange juice, bread, and milk. Of course, the safest way to plug any nutritional gaps is with a vitamin D supplement, which is something that comes highly recommended by the NHS and Public Health England. Always look for formulas that pack at least 10mcg.
Let’s be honest, vitamin C is a go-to for almost every ailment under the sun, and bone health is no different. Vitamin C supports the production of collagen – a main component of your bones structure – that contributes to the normal function cartilage and bones. From the age of 25, you start losing 1% of collagen every year, so prioritising your collagen levels as early as possible could future proof your bones. In a three-month study, female participants who consumed more than nine servings of vitamin C-rich veggies and herbs experienced a significant decrease in bone turnover (the amount of bone that’s resorbed and formed over a period of time)ii. Just another reason to pile your plate high with greens, right? Adults need 40mg of vitamin C a day to reap the fruits (quite literally).
Eat it: “Eat your veggies!” It’s advice we hear time and again, and for good reason. Colourful fruits and veggies, like spinach, kale, broccoli, peppers, berries, and cabbage, are potent sources of vitamin C that will effortlessly nourish your bones, along with many other areas of health, for that matter.
Despite being a little more under-the-radar, vitamin K2 is still considered a bone-bolstering powerhouse. You might even call it the new ‘vitamin D’. Not only does this nutrient play a key role in bone formation, but it’s also thought to be a mighty weapon against bone fractures. Better still, vitamin K2 positively impacts the delicate calcium balance the body, which – as we already know – is a key mineral for bone health. Studies even suggest vitamin K2 may slow down the progression of bone loss in postmenopausal womeniii. As a general rule, adults require approximately 1mcg (microgram) of vitamin K2 for every kilogram of weight each day. So, if you weigh 65kg, you would need 65mcg of vitamin K2.
Eat it: Embrace a range of fermented foods, yoghurt, ripe cheese, and natto – a Japanese fermented soy food – to get your vitamin K2 fix.
Zinc doesn’t just support your skin, hair, and nails; it makes your bones strong and sturdy, too. Like vitamin C, zinc is central to the collagen synthesis process; it supports the body’s collagen production as well as the creation of collagen fibres, which, in turn, cultivates healthy, happy bones. Beyond collagen, zinc also partakes in the body’s ‘osteoblast activity’, in which cells make bones. While men should aim for 9.5mg of zinc a day, women require 7mg.
Eat it: Packing a whopping 32mg of zinc in every 6 medium oysters, these aphrodisiac bivalves are by far the richest source of zinc, with lobster, crab and other seafood following closely behind. Beef and chicken are also jam-packed with this bone-supporting mineral. Vegetarian? Vegan? No problem. Although plant-based sources do, admittedly, contain less zinc, munching an abundance of cashews, almonds, kidney beans, and chickpeas will put you in good stead to meet your recommended daily allowance.
Zinc and calcium aren’t the only minerals that support bone health; magnesium shines in this area, too. In addition to safeguarding the firmness and strength of bones, magnesium plays an essential role in converting vitamin D into its active form, which allows for optimal calcium absorption. Without magnesium, the bone-supporting potential of vitamin D and calcium can’t be realised. What’s more, your bones are also dense storage reservoirs of magnesium. In times of need, magnesium is transferred from the bones to the bloodstream; meaning adequate intake is essential to prevent the loss of bone density. In one observational study of over 73,000 women, researchers found participants who consumed 400mg of magnesium each day had 2-3% higher bone density than their counterparts who only consumed half this amount dailyiv. To support your bones, be sure to pack 300mg of magnesium into your diet each day.
Eat it: Green leafy veggies, avocados, legumes, whole grains, bananas, nuts and seeds are crammed with magnesium. Oh, and chocolate lovers rejoice: dark chocolate is also rich source of magnesium. Just ensure it contains at least 70% of cacao.
Omega-3 fatty acids
It’s widely accepted that omega-3 fatty acids nourish your heart, cognition, and mood, but did you know they’re also vital for bone health? It’s true: the effects of these nutrients have shown immense promise in supporting bone mineral density and protecting against bone loss from ageingv. While there is no specific guideline on how much omega-3 you should receive each day, it’s generally advised to eat 2-3 portions of oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, and herring) every week.
Eat it: Not a fish fan? Fear not. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts deliver a potent dose of omega-3 fatty acids, too. Fun fact: chia seeds deliver more omega-3 gram for gram than salmon! Impressive, or what?
Bener. A. & Saleh. N.R. (2015). Low vitamin D, and bone mineral density with depressive symptoms burden in menopausal and postmenopausal women. Journal of Mid-life Health. 6(3), 108.
Gunn. C., Weber. J., McGill. A. & Kruger. M. (2015). Increased Intake of Selected Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit may Reduce Bone Turnover in Post-Menopausal Women. Nutrients. 7(4), 2499-2517.
Iwamoto. J. (2014). Vitamin K: therapy for postmenopausal osteoporosis. Nutrients. 6(5), 1971–1980.
Orchard. T., Larson. J., Alghothani. N., Bout-Tabaku. S., Cauley. J., Chen. Z., LaCroix. A., Wactawski-Wende. J. & Jackson. R. (2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 99(4), 926-933.
Weiss. L., Barrett-Connor. E. & von Mühlen. D. (2005). Ratio of n–6 to n–3 fatty acids and bone mineral density in older adults: the Rancho Bernardo Study. he American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 181(4), 934-938.
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Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.