Bone Building Foods, Key Nutrients & Recipes for Bone Health!
What are the best foods for bone health and bone density? How can you protect your bones and keep them strong, at any age and stage in life? Thankfully, there are so many simple bone building foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet today. You may even have some in your pantry right now!
By understanding the key nutrients and foods for bone health now, you can take steps to get and keep your skeleton in tip-top condition. Or, help to protect your bones and maintain resilience as you age! So, let’s dive into the basics of bone health, some of the best foods for bone health, and some easy snack recipes for strong bones.
All of these recipes feature foods for bone health that are rich in bone-protecting and bone-building nutrients, like essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. From promoting bone formation to preventing bone breakdown to combatting chronic inflammation, these foods and snacks are simple daily additions that can help maintain the health of our bones.
What is Bone Health & Why is it Important?
In simplest terms, healthy bones are strong and resilient—they don’t break easily, and that’s because they’re composed of durable, essential minerals. From the time we’re born, throughout childhood and adolescence, and all the way into early adulthood, our bones are growing. Minerals are being incorporated into our bones during this time, building up what’s known as bone massor bone mineral density: a measure of the amount of calcium and other minerals found in bones.
When we have a healthy bone density, our bones are composed of sufficient calcium and essential minerals to be strong and resilient. But, once we reach around 30 years of age, we achieve our peak bone mass. That means, after age 30, we are no longer accumulating bone mass and we can begin to lose bone mass.
Bone loss is a natural part of aging, but it can be worsened by certain lifestyle factors—like nutritional deficiencies, neglecting strength training, smoking, heavy drinking, etc. And, in some cases, bone loss can evolve into clinical conditions of low bone mass, like osteoporosis, in which bones become very brittle and break easily. Luckily, we CAN still take steps to strengthen our bones, even after age 30—like by knowing which foods for bone health to eat!
Key Nutrients for Bone Health & Osteoporosis Prevention
To understand how to strengthen bones and improve bone health, it helps to understand what exactly healthy bones need. There’s a wide range of tasty foods for bone health that may preserve or even improve bone mineral density. And that’s because these foods contain certain key nutrients that are involved in our bone growth and composition.
Before getting into the best foods for bone health, here’s a brief summary of some of the key nutrients that contribute to our bone health:
Most Well-Known Bone Health Nutrients
Even if you know nothing about bone health or which foods for bone health to eat, most of us know about this combo of 2 key nutrients: calcium and vitamin D. We need BOTH, together, for optimum bone health.
Calcium—the main mineral found in our bones. Helps to build bones, as well as protect bone density and strength. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium is 1,000mg per day for most adults, 1,300mg for children and teens, and 1,200mg for women over 50 and all adults over 70. And, it’s best to spread out our intake throughout the day to support our bones’ constant growth.
Vitamin D—needed in sufficient quantities in order for the body to absorb calcium properly. Low levels increase the risk for lower bone density and greater bone loss. It’s difficult to consume enough vitamin D from food sources, but we can increase levels of vitamin D through sun exposure and with supplements.
From milk to plain yogurt to hard cheeses, dairy products in general are quality bone building foods to include in our diet. Or, there are also nondairy milk options that have been fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
We can also get calcium from other plant-based sources, like leafy greens and broccoli. And, while vitamin D food sources are less common, sources like fatty fish and egg yolks offer some vitamin D. But, it’s important to know that they’re NOT the only 2 nutrients we need for bone health. There’s an essential group of other nutrients that we all need for truly health bones.
Lesser-Known But Equally Important Bone Health Nutrients!
From stimulating bone formation to protecting our bones from breakdown, there’s an entire family of nutrients that are crucial to our overall bone health. Some of these nutrients play an individual role in bone health, but we need the majority of these nutrients to work together in our bodies in order to have the greatest impact.
Without magnesium, vitamin D can’t convert into its active form, which means calcium absorption is inhibited, which can lead to weaker bones. Potassium helps protect our bones from breakdown, which calcium just can’t do alone. So, beyond calcium and vitamin D, think about filling your plate with these bone building and bone protecting nutrients:
Vitamin K—both K1 and K2 play a role in bone health and bone formation. Sufficient K1 intake reduces our risk for bone fractures. Vitamin K2 can increase bone density in both children and older women, while helping to maintain healthy bone density in adults.
Magnesium—converts vitamin D into its active form, which promotes calcium absorption in out bones.
Potassium—essential mineral that helps to increase bone mineral density by decreasing bone breakdown.
Vitamin C—helps to stimulate the production of bone-forming cells, and its antioxidant properties may even protect our bone cells from damage.
Zinc—promotes the formation of bone-building cells, while also preventing excessive breakdown of our bones. Low levels are associated with poor bone health and bone density.
Protein—makes up around 50% of our bones! Adequate protein intake is essential to bone health, as low protein intake can inhibit calcium absorption and bone formation.
As with so many dimensions of our health, bone health starts with food. The fuel that we put into our body can make such a huge difference on our overall health and wellness! And luckily, there are loads of delicious foods for bone health that you can easily incorporate into your routine.
Of course, there are plenty of other foods for bone health beyond those listed here. These are just a few of my top picks based on their nutrient profiles and how easy they are to include in my day!
One study found that eating just 1 serving—5 to 6 prunes—per day can help prevent bone loss. Another study suggested that consuming 10-11 prunes daily can even increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women!
Most importantly for me, prunes are SO easy to include in my day as a simple snack. They’re easy to blend into smoothies, serve on top of toast, use in baked goods, serve in oatmeal, there are so many options. Personally, I just love to eat them all on their own—and Sunsweet® Amaz!n Prunes are my absolute favorite!
H4: Prunes Bone Health Benefits:
Vitamin K—one serving of prunes contains nearly 20% of the RDI for this bone building vitamin and is considered an excellent source!
Potassium—prunes also contain potassium, a mineral known to help increase bone mineral density and decrease bone breakdown.
Magnesium—they’re also a source of this essential mineral, which converts vitamin D into its usable form.
Flavonoids—a type of antioxidant found in prunes. Flavonoids are known for their ability to lower inflammation and protect against bone loss
#2 Leafy Greens
We could all afford to eat more leafy greens, for more reasons than one. Unsurprisingly, leafy greens are wonderful foods for bone health as well! The popular spinach and kale are fantastic options, but there’s such a wide array of greens to choose from: collard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, beet greens, even herbs like parsley!
Leafy greens—and particularly dark leafy greens—are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. In terms of bone health, they’re incredible sources of essential bone building nutrients including calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and magnesium. Do your bones a favor by trying out new salad combinations, or try adding greens to your next smoothie!
Bone Building Leafy Greens:
Calcium—choose kale, collard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, or mustard greens for a boost! (Spinach does contain calcium, but it’s not an ideal source because it also contains oxalates—which inhibit calcium absorption.)
Vitamin K—pump up the dark leafy greens in your diet like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens.
Vitamin C—kale, spinach, and parsley are vitamin C powerhouses!
Magnesium—opt for spinach, beet greens, or collard greens for a dose of this essential mineral.
#3 Colorful Fruits & Veggies (Esp. Green Veggies!)
Much like leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies are some of the most nutritious foods we can eat. And that goes for our bone health, too! More colors = more nutrients and antioxidants, which are the simple keys to bone health and overall health.
Colorful fruits and veggies are some of the best sources of vitamin C, which boosts our immune health at the same time that it stimulates bone production in our bodies. And, eating more veggies—especially green veggies—is one of the best ways to up our intake of other essential, bone protecting nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Quality Fruits & Veggies for Bone Health:
Vitamin C—citrus fruits (like oranges, grapefruit, etc.), kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, papaya, pineapple, red bell pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
Nuts and seeds are sneaky sources of bone building nutrients, and they’re some of the easiest foods for bone health to incorporate into our daily routine. From magnesium to zinc to plant-based omega-3s, these nuts and seeds are great sources of nutrients for our bones:
Nuts & Seeds for Bone Health:
Pumpkin Seeds—a fantastic source of magnesium, vitamin K, and zinc! A 1-oz serving contains around 37% of the RDI for magnesium, 18% for vitamin K, and 14% for zinc.
Chia Seeds & Flaxseed—in addition to magnesium and zinc, rich in plant-based calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Almonds—a surprising source of calcium, with around 8% of the RDI per serving, as well as a source of magnesium
Walnuts—studied for their ability to decrease the rate of bone breakdown and help keep the rate of bone formation constant, likely due to their rich content of omega-3s and antioxidants.
Cashews—a quality source of magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K. A 1-oz serving contains 20% of the RDI for magnesium, 12% for vitamin K, and 11% for zinc.
#6 Fatty Fish
The omega-3s found in fatty fish make these some of the most nutritious foods any of us can eat, and some of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods on the planet. And this anti-inflammatory effect is, in part, what makes fatty fish great foods for bone health and bone density as well. Fighting inflammation helps protect the integrity of our bones.
In addition, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are some of the best—and only—food sources of the elusive bone building nutrient: vitamin D. In general, nutritional experts recommend sourcing vitamin D from sunlight exposure or from a supplement because it’s just that hard to get. So fatty fish are a source worth incorporating into our diets!
Tips for Incorporating Fish for Bone Health:
Fattier Fish are Best—since omega-3s are fatty acids, we want fatty fish in order to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits. While leaner fish like tilapia and cod will also offer some omega-3s, the best sources are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.
Not just Omega-3s, but Vitamin D—in addition to those omega-3s, those fatty fish are also some of our best options for food sources of vitamin D!
Bones for Bone Health—whether fresh or canned, eating fish with bones is a smart move for bone health because we get some calcium, too! Options like canned salmon or canned sardines with bones are some of the very best foods for bone health that we can eat: omega-3s, vitamin D AND calcium, all-in-one!
Easy Snacks & Recipes with Bone Building Foods
To help you make the most of these foods for bone health and bone density, I’ve got some easy snack recipes to share as well! Feel free to swap out ingredients with any other bone building foods that you prefer. Or, use these ideas as inspiration to come up with your own bone health recipes!
Almond Butter Toast
This simple almond butter toast is the perfect bone building snack or breakfast! Almond butter is a creamy, calcium-rich spread that’s delicious on just about anything.
Top with sliced banana for a potassium boost, mineral-rich pumpkin seeds for a dose of magnesium and zinc, and the sweet, bone building superfruit: PRUNES! For the most nutritious and bone-friendly bread, go for a whole grain option.
Spread almond butter onto toast. Add sliced banana, pumpkin seeds, diced prunes, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Serve and enjoy!
Serving Size:1 toast
Plain, unsweetened yogurt is one of the simplest foods for bone health and it’s so versatile. Just add a few of your favorite toppings, and you’ve got a bone building snack ready in minutes! Instead of Greek yogurt, go for a regular, plain yogurt for the richest calcium content—and a vitamin D fortified variety if you can find it.
For maximum bone benefits, I’m topping this parfait with my favorite fruit for bone health: prunes! Alongside a vitamin C and antioxidant superstar: blueberries. For a crunchy element, I went with my pumpkin seed granola to give an added bone health boost! Or, use your favorite granola and toss some pumpkin seeds into the mix to reap the benefits.
Top with diced prunes, blueberries, and pumpkin seed granola (or granola of choice).
Serve and enjoy!
Serving Size:1 parfait
Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Another simple snack to pack more foods for bone health into your day: a smoothie! In this strawberry banana smoothie, I’ve loaded up plenty of calcium between the milk and yogurt, plus a hearty dose of vitamin C from the strawberries. Add in some ground flax, frozen banana, and a few prunes, and you’ve got a deliciously thick, sweet smoothie—no added sugar needed!
Of course, the beauty of smoothies is you can make them your own in so many ways. Swap out the dairy milk and yogurt for fortified nondairy varieties if you prefer. Add a generous handful of dark leafy greens into the mix. Swap out the ground flaxseed for some almond flour. Your options are endless!