Bones play many roles in the body providing structure, storing calcium, stabilising muscles and protecting organs. They are continuously changing, being broken down and built again.
During childhood and adolescence, bone formation outpaces bone resorption, and we reach peak bone mass around age 30. After that, bone remodeling continues, but we lose slightly more bone mass than we gain. So, maintaining a lifestyle that supports bone health is critical.
There are various factors that can affect the health and function of bones such as gender, age, built, hormones levels, ethnicity but also diet and physical activity which are factors that we can have a positive or negative beneficial impact on.
Bone mass can be positively affected by regular activity especially weight-bearing exercise such as lifting weights, running, walking, or dancing. And we have all probably heard how a diet low in calcium contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
But there are many other essential nutrients that contribute to the formation and health of our bones throughout our lifetime, so it’s important to make foods that contain them part of our daily diet.
Here are some of the main foods to include:
- Calcium rich foods
These include dairy and plant-based sources such as dark green leafy vegetables (kale, rocket, watercress, parsley, cabbage, broccoli) as well as sesame seeds and tahini, almonds, dried apricots and figs, tempeh, chickpeas, adzuki and navy beans.
If you are not consuming dairy milk, choose dairy free milks that are fortified with calcium and other essential nutrients like vitamin D and iodine.
Calcium is essential to support skeletal structure and function of bones and teeth, but it doesn’t work in isolation. In fact, there are other nutrients needed for its absorption and deposition such as vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin K.
- Vitamin D rich foods and supplementation
Animal products like oily fish, meat and eggs can contain some amounts of this vitamin and it can also be found in fortified dairy free milks, tofu and tempeh. In the U.K. though, it is recommended that everyone supplements vitamin D from October to March to support bone health and formation and prevent fractures.
- Magnesium rich foods
Plant-based foods like dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans and whole grains are the richest sources of this mineral. Think kale, spinach, bok choy, chicory, parsley but also almonds, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds or brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat. Perfect to use during winter months to make warming stews, soups and stir fries or creamy porridge topped with nut butter and seeds.
Magnesium increases the absorption of calcium and it’s necessary in the conversion of vitamin D into its active form so that it can help calcium be absorbed supporting bone formation and stabilisation.
- Vitamin K rich foods
This is another nutrient that is found in plant-based sources like leafy green vegetables, tofu and tempeh, vegetable oils and fortified dairy free milks. Low levels of vitamin K have been associated with increased bone fractures and low bone density in older women and men as it’s necessary for utilisation of calcium in bones and for their mineralization.
- Vitamin C rich foods
Probably not a nutrient that many would associate with bone health, but this vitamin seems to enhance calcium absorption and vitamin D’s function in bone metabolism. Its main role though is being an essential cofactor in the building of collagen that give bones their elasticity and resilience.
Many foods are rich sources of vitamin C. Citrus fruit, berries, kiwi, pineapple, tomatoes, bell peppers, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach or asparagus.
- Zinc rich foods
Another essential nutrient to produce collagen and to support calcium absorption. Foods that have the highest concentration are animal products like shellfish, meat and dairy but there are also plant-based sources like tofu, tempeh and miso, wheat and oats, cashews, almonds, walnuts and pecans, beans and legumes as well as seeds like chia, sunflower and pumpkin.
- Phosphorus rich foods
They include meat, dairy and fish but also beans, lentils and soya, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, rice, oats, quinoa and amaranth. This mineral works together with calcium to give bones their structure and strength.
- Boron rich foods
Mainly plant based foods like whole grains, avocado, lentils, chickpeas, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, dried apricots along with oranges, berries, grapes and plums.
Necessary for the utilisation of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium in bones.
- Manganese rich foods
Cacao, sweet potatoes, whole grains, spinach, pineapple, pecans, almonds and pine nuts, chickpeas, soya, lima and pinto beans are all sources of this trace mineral that is a co-factor needed in the mineralisation of bones and in the formation of collagen and bone cartilage.
- Silica rich foods
Examples are cucumber, romaine, spinach, green beans, leeks, tomatoes, bell pepper, bananas, raisins, oranges, cherries, rice, wheat and almonds. Silica combines with calcium in the bone-building cells initiating the calcification process supporting bone strength and flexibility.
- Protein rich foods
When we think of protein, we most likely associate it with building muscles, but amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are utilised to form collagen and cartilage and adequate protein and calcium intakes are needed for optimal bone growth in childhood and bone health in adult age. Opt to include a variety of protein sources throughout your daily eats to support all the different tissues, organs and functions in our bodies that need it to work efficiently long term.
So, be sure to include a wide variety of the above foods in your daily diet, to maintain bone health throughout your lifetime.
Alessandra is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Plant Based Chef, Nutrition & Health Content Writer. She studied at College of Naturopathic Medicine in London and is a medicinal chef that gained her training from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York. www.yoursweetnutrition.com