Nutrition and bone health go hand-in-hand. As we age, our bone health can deteriorate putting us at higher risk of breaks and fractures, and can even lead to osteoporosis. Eating a balanced diet will bring better health overall, but for bone health, focus on vitamin D, calcium, and protein intake.
Vitamin D and calcium are pals, when one changes, the other follows. Vitamin D helps absorption of calcium, allowing it to fortify our bones. If your vitamin D level is low, your bones can weaken.
Vitamin D & Bone Health
Dietary vitamin D sources include eggs, fatty fish like salmon, beef liver, and fortified foods like orange juice. Our bodies prefer vitamin D3 from sunlight, called cholecalciferol, which can be taken as a supplement daily during winter or if you don’t get outside as often as you’d like. You may find complexes with ergocalciferol, which is simply a man-made, plant-based version of vitamin D.
Calcium & Bone Health
If calcium is low, your body will actually pull it from your bones to maintain balance within the system (called homeostasis). Osteoclasts are the cells that remove calcium from bone tissue, and osteoblasts build bone tissue using calcium from your diet.
Sources of calcium are milk and dairy, seeds, sardines, canned salmon (because you are eating the bones!) and some leafy greens like spinach and kale. If you are looking to supplement, try finding a complex with both vitamin D and calcium for maximum benefits!
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Protein & Bone Health
Protein contains essential compounds for bone synthesis, and some studies even link better bone health and less post-fracture bone loss to higher protein intake. Aim for at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.
For example, if you weigh 110 lbs, divide 110 lbs by 2.2 (conversion to kg) = 50 kg x 0.8 = 40 grams minimum per day. Shoot for 0.8-1 gm/kg protein per day for optimal bone health.
Conversely, some studies have shown that too high protein intake, around 2.0 gm/kg/day, may be detrimental to bone health by causing more calcium to be excreted.
Bonus Tip: Strength Training for Stronger Bones
Want to boost your bone health even more? Try adding weight lifting exercises to your weekly routine!
The more weight your bones bear, the stronger they become. No need to go all Arnold Schwarzenegger, just try a light-moderate set of weights 2-3 x per week.
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).