Be Good to Your Bones: How and Why to Sustain Bone Health

milk and granola breakfast
(Photo: iStock)

Your bones are the framework of your body as they protect your organs and enable you to move. Healthy bones mean a healthy you, and when it comes to healthy bones, the denser the better.

Bone density is primarily comprised of cartilage and calcium that you get from your diet. For most women, maximum bone density is reached by age 18, which is why it’s so important for children and teens to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods. But bones can keep growing until you’re 30 and after that, and it’s still important to have calcium in your diet to maintain what bone density you already have in place. This is especially true after menopause when a drop in estrogen production causes bone loss to become more rapid.

In addition to calcium, phosphorus is another mineral you should focus on. It’s also a component of bones, and while phosphorus deficiency is less common, it can cause your bones to become brittle.

Beyond calcium and phosphorus, there are two key vitamins that play a role in bone health. The first, vitamin D, is absolutely essential because without it, your body can’t properly absorb calcium from your diet. Also important is vitamin K -- it directs calcium in your body so that it is deposited in your bones and not in other areas where you don’t need it. These bone-building nutrients are probably already a part of your diet.

Milk

There’s no better beverage for your bones. One eight ounce glass of milk contains almost one-third of your daily recommended calcium needs, plus it’s fortified with Vitamin D, so drink up.

Kale

This leafy green is one of the best sources of Vitamin K around. If you're not a fan of milk, a kale salad can do the trick to increase your calcium intake. A serving of kale has more absorbable calcium than a small carton of milk.

Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of phosphorus and vitamin D. But make sure to order them sunny side up. The delicious yellow yolks are one of only a few foods that are a naturally reliable source of vitamin D. And if you're looking to add protein along with vitamin D, eggs will be one of your go-to sources as they have the right mix of amino acids we need.

Mushrooms

If you're eating mushrooms for the vitamin D, you'll get a good dose as long as the mushrooms you purchase have been exposed to sunlight. Make sure to check the label before buying to make sure your batch has gotten the “UV treatment,” as mushrooms don't need light to grow. These "meat vegetables" are also rich in potassium -- one portabella mushroom can contain more potassium than a banana.

Salmon

As if you needed another reason to start eating this super seafood, salmon is a good source of calcium and joins eggs as one of the few foods that naturally contains vitamin D. In order to get the most benefits and best taste from fresh salmon, make sure to freeze it or eat it within a couple days.

Tuna

Tuna salad anyone? Like Salmon, this fish offers up a healthy dose of vitamin D. Omega-3 fatty acids are another thing these nutritious fish have in common. If you need another reason to make tuna a weekly lunch option, consider its high levels of the antioxidant selenium -- improve your body's immune system and bone density at the same time.

Edamame

This delicious Asian appetizer contains a good bit of calcium, so go ahead and put in another order. It's our pick for superstar of the legume family, and you may want to snack on it next time you're fighting a cold as one half cup of shelled edamame gives us 10% of our daily vitamin C.

Tofu

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This vegetarian-friendly source of protein is also a great source of calcium. One half cup serving provides almost half of your daily calcium needs. Tofu also contains all eight essential amino acids, so consider this your invitation to make yourself a tofu scramble tomorrow morning.

Orange Juice

This breakfast beverage often comes fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. Next time you’re buying orange juice, look for "vitamin D" on the label to get the bone-boosting benefit. We love that we can use nutrition to back up our plan for mimosa bars every weekend.