Many nutrients are involved in keeping bones healthy. Calcium and vitamin D are two of the most important.
Calcium is a mineral that’s essential to your body functioning properly and is stored in your bones. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Not getting enough calcium in your diet can lead to fragile, brittle bones that are more prone to fractures and disease.
Vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, and phosphorus are other important nutrients for bone health.
Dark, leafy greens, such as kale, arugula, watercress, and collard greens, are perhaps the best nondairy sources of calcium. These greens are also high in magnesium, which is helpful for maintaining bone integrity, and vitamin K, which is needed for bone metabolism.
Although spinach is usually included in this group, it contains oxalic acid, which makes the human body unable to absorb its calcium.
The sun is our main source of vitamin D. However, eating fatty fish such as salmon is another great way to get vitamin D.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one 3-ounce serving of salmon will provide you with 447 international units (IU) of vitamin D. The recommended minimum intake of vitamin D is 400 IU daily.
Canned salmon includes the softer (edible) bones of the fish, meaning it’s loaded with calcium.
Tuna is another fatty fish loaded with healthful vitamin D. It also contains high amounts of other beneficial nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. And because it comes canned, it’s easy to find, easy on the wallet, and simple to add to your diet.
While we’re on fish, you can’t go wrong with catfish. It’s perhaps the least expensive variety of fish, and it’s also one of the highest in vitamin D, containing 425 IU in one 3-ounce filet.
Of all the tree nuts you can find at the grocery store, almonds have the highest amount of calcium per serving. You can get the same calcium benefits in butter form. As a bonus, almond butter has no cholesterol and is lower in fat and higher in protein than peanut butter. For a delicious recipe using almond butter, try almond chocolate mousse.
It’s pretty simple: Cheese is made from milk. Milk has lots of calcium. Ergo, cheese has lots of calcium.
With a wide variety to choose from, mozzarella is particularly high in calcium. For a healthier option, try cheese made from skim milk.
Yogurt is an ancient culinary product, dating back as far as 2,000 B.C. Due to yogurt’s preparation process, this dietary staple actually contains significantly more calcium than the milk from which it’s made. One 8-ounce serving of low-fat yogurt provides a full 42 percent of your daily calcium needs, according to the NIH.
Good news for breakfast lovers: Eggs contain a nice amount of vitamin D and can improve bone health. Vitamin D is found in the yolks only, so if you tend to eat egg white omelets, you’ll have to get your vitamin D elsewhere.
Another breakfast item, orange juice, is often fortified with vitamin D and calcium.
Of all the nondairy sources of calcium out there, broccoli is second to dark, leafy greens. And broccoli isn’t only bone-healthy — it’s an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and nutrients that contain cancer-fighting properties.
So, what about milk?
One cup of milk has about 30 percent of the calcium you need daily, according to the NIH. On top of that, the milk that’s sold in stores is typically fortified with vitamin D, making it a double-whammy when it comes to bone health.
However, there has been some speculation that milk may actually deplete the bones of vital nutrients. A 2014 study showed there was no correlation between milk consumption during teenage years and decreased risk of hip fractures in older adults.
However, one 2011 meta-analysis of cohort studies showed no association between milk intake and hip fracture in women, but stated more data needed to be done on men.
Research is mixed and more studies need to be done to find a concrete answer.
As you age, your body will continue to need calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients to keep your bones strong and dense. Getting enough bone-supporting nutrients in your diet is perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep them strong and healthy.
But it’s not the only thing you can — or should — do. Check out these 10 tips to increase bone strength, and read about these 7 common osteoporosis myths so that you can be better informed about your bone health.