7 Best Bone-Building Foods

By Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., Lifescript Nutrition Expert
Women start to lose bone mass in their 30s. But a good diet will lower the risk of a weak skeleton. Here are 7 foods that are great for your main frame. Plus, you can make up for diet deficiencies with supplements, but how much do you know about them? Test yourself with our quiz…

1. Seeds
Our skeleton is largely made of calcium, but other minerals play a key role too. In fact, 50% of the body’s magnesium resides in our bones. Low levels are linked to fragile bones and calcium loss, research shows.

All seeds are good magnesium sources, but pumpkin seeds outshine the rest.

Here are a few ways to eat seeds:

  • Measure a 1-ounce portion to take to work for an afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Sprinkle a tablespoon or two onto your mixed green salad.
  • Toss some with green beans or sautéed spinach.

2. Nuts
Bones aren’t hard and brittle; they’re living organs with live cells and fluids. Every day, bone cells break down and build up. That’s how they remain strong and heal after a break.Walnuts – rich in alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid – decrease the rate of bone breakdown and keep bone formation constant, according to a 2007 Nutrition Journal study. Brazil nuts are also great sources of magnesium.

So grab a small handful for a snack or sprinkle a couple tablespoons into your oatmeal. Keep in mind that nuts are high-fat and high-calorie, so limit your daily serving to one ounce – about 1/4 cup.

Other foods with alpha linolenic acid include: flaxseed oil, ground flaxseeds, walnut oil, soybeans, soybean oil and canola oil.

3. Oysters
Long touted as an aphrodisiac, the oyster is our best source of zinc, a mineral  important in immune function, normal growth, taste, smell, wound healing and dozens of enzymatic reactions in the body.

One of those chemical reactions aids in the formation of bone collagen, the protein framework of bones that makes them somewhat flexible.

Enjoy oysters steamed, boiled, baked and in stews. A word caution about raw oysters: They may be contaminated with the bacteria vibrio, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

4. Leafy Greens
Make green your new favorite color. Your salads and steamed greens are packed with bone-building nutrients, particularly calcium, magnesium and vitamin K.Vitamin K is critical in forming bone proteins and cuts calcium loss in urine. Too little of this fat-soluble vitamin increases risk of hip fractures, research shows.

Just one cup of raw or a half-cup of cooked greens provides several times the recommended intake of 90 micrograms per day.

Here are a few ways to sneak some extra greens in today:

  • Add lettuce to your sandwiches. Even iceberg has vitamin K.
  • Slip spinach leaves between layers of noodles in homemade lasagna.
  • Start your dinner with a salad of spinach or mixed greens.
  • Try dandelion greens or Swiss chard for dinner.

5. Beans
Have beans for supper tonight, especially pinto, black, white and kidney beans. You’ll get another good boost of magnesium and even some calcium. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 2-1/2 cups of beans and other legumes (peas, lentils) weekly.Bean-eaters reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity. Problem is, most people don’t know what to do with them. Here are a few ideas:

  • At the beginning of the week, open and rinse a can of beans, and store them in your refrigerator. Each night, toss a heaping spoonful into your mixed green salad.
  • Top nachos with red beans.
  • Mix any canned bean into vegetable soups.
  • Add black beans or kidney beans to pasta salads.
  • Instead of coleslaw or potato salad, take a bean salad to your next potluck supper. 

6. Fish
When it comes to bones, calcium is nothing without vitamin D, which we need so our bodies can absorb calcium. As with vitamin K, vitamin D deficiency also is linked to hip fracture.

In fact, 50% of women with osteoporosis who were hospitalized for hip fracture had signs of vitamin D deficiency, according to a scientific review by the American Medical Association.The best fish? Salmon. A small serving of salmon – only 3-1/2 ounces – gives you 90% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. If you want a double-whammy of bone-building nutrients, don’t just look to fresh fish. Canned salmon provides vitamin D and calcium… as long as you eat the bones. (Don’t worry, they’re soft.)

7. Dairy
Many of us forget about milk once we outgrow crazy straws and strawberry powder, but bones don’t stop developing in our teens. We add bone mass even in our 20s, but only if we consume enough of the nutritional elements.

Once we reach menopause and begin to lose estrogen, our bones lose calcium more rapidly than at any other time in our lives. Here again, calcium and vitamin D can help delay the loss of bone mass.

Milk is a good source of vitamin D because it is fortified. Cheese, yogurt and ice cream generally aren’t; they contain little vitamin D. Drink nonfat or 1% milk; the others have high saturated fat and cholesterol content. Pour a nice cold glass and enjoy – with or without a cookie.

More Dos and Don’ts for Strong Bones

Do eat fruits and veggies. Higher consumption means greater bone mineral density. Researchers can’t say why, but fruits and vegetables are loaded with an array of nutrients that build strong bones.

Do exercise. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Weight-bearing exercises like running, dancing and lifting weights stress your bones in a good way. This signals your body to make more bone cells. Don’t drink too much. Alcohol can inhibit the formation of new bone cells.

Don’t drink cola. Regular cola drinkers have lower bone mineral density than women who rarely drink cola.

Don’t smoke. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of a fracture.

Don’t worry about caffeine – if you get enough calcium. Drink caffeine and you’ll lose more calcium in your urine 1-3 hours afterward. Drinking more than 2-3 cups of coffee per day is associated with bone loss in postmenopausal women when their calcium intake is inadequate.

Aim for 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily – the equivalent of four cups of milk or yogurt – if you’ve hit menopause. Otherwise, 1,000 mg should do.

What’s Your Supplement IQ?
You know taking calcium supplements can help build strong bones when you don’t eat enough dairy, but do you know all you should about supplements? Here’s your chance to test your IQ with this supplement quiz.

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