What To Eat & Drink For Stronger Bones

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Maintaining healthy, strong bones can help us perform better in our daily tasks and athletic endeavors and can lower our risk of injuries and joint pain, and so it is important to eat the right nutrients to build and strengthen bones, as told by experts at WebMD.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on increasing their bone density, which can decline with aging, as well as diet and lifestyle factors, as told by Dr. Charles Galanis, a Board Certified Surgeon in Chicago and Robert Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, over email with me.

"To understand what food and drink help build and strengthen bone, one must first understand some of the basic physiology of bone formation and maintenance. Basically throughout life, there is a delicate balance between bone formation – as performed by cells called osteoblasts – and bone degradation – as performed by cells called osteoclasts. Although our peak bone mass occurs at age 30 with slow and gradual degradation thereafter, there is constant turnover of bone throughout our lives," say Galanis and Dorfman. Diet can certainly impact bone strength over time, and "adequate levels of Vitamin D, calcium, and phosphate are all essential for healthy bones," they say. Here are eleven foods and drinks high in these nutrients to increase bone density and make you feel stronger and fitter each day.

1. Fatty Fish

"Humans make 90 percent of our Vitamin D from sunlight exposure – specifically ultraviolet B exposure. The balance comes from diet and diet supplementation. It is worth noting that dietary Vitamin D requires the presence of fat for adequate absorption in the digestive tract," say Galanis and Dorfman. They recommend fatty fish, which is high in both fats and vitamin D, to boost bone health. Such options include salmon and tuna.

2. Eggs

"Vitamin D acts on the digestive tract as well as the kidneys and bone itself to modulate resorption of calcium and phosphate. Therefore, without Vitamin D, calcium and phosphate levels may become low, and the result is more bone resorption than bone creation," say Galanis and Dorfman. They recommend eating egg yolks, as they are high in vitamin D, as well as other great nutrients, as told by Chris Masterjohn, PhD, on his blog.

3. Milk

"During bone formation, a material known as osteoid is created and after mineralization with calcium and phosphate, presto you have bone formation. It is by this mineralization process that calcium and phosphate are major players in bone formation," say Galanis and Dorfman. They recommend all dairy products, such as milk (dairy and non-dairy), Greek yogurt, and cheese. Plus, "Greek yogurt, milk (both dairy and non-dairy forms), and many breakfast cereals can effectively deliver adequate supplies of both calcium and Vitamin D," they say.

4. Kale

According to Galanis and Dorfman, calcium isn't only found in dairy products, as many people may assume. Calcium is also abundant in green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, they say. Toss these greens in a breakfast smoothie with some Greek yogurt for even greater calcium and vitamin D benefits! Here are some great smoothie recipes using leafy greens, as shown on Greatist.

5. Tofu

Galanis and Dorfman suggest eating edamame, a soy-based legume that can help prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones. Additionally, consuming other soy products, such as tofu, perhaps as a dinner stirfry with vegetables and brown rice, can help build bones, as told by SANA and House Foods over email with me.

6. Flaxseed

High in many nutrients, as well as healthy fats, flaxseeds contain estrogen, which according to the National Institutes of Health in interview with Livestrong, can help reduce risk of osteoporosis. "Among the factors that affect bone strength are diet, exercise, and the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is a protective hormone in decreasing the degree and rate of bone loss," say Galanis and Dorfman.

7. Orange Juice

Often times, orange juice is fortified with nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, say Galanis and Dorfman. Thus, drinking some OJ first thing in the morning could be beneficial for strengthening your bones! However, make sure that the brand you choose contains those prime nutrients, and be wary of portion sizes in order to limit your daily intake of sugar.

8. Coconut Oil

"Keeping a diet that maintains an alkaline (pH greater than 7) environment in the body is ideal for promoting strong bones. This is due to the fact that when we eat foods that create an acidic condition the body must use elements like calcium to buffer the system to regain the alkaline state which is critical to our survival," says physical therapist and yoga teacher, Rebecca Blanchard, DPT, RYT, over email with me."To maintain an alkaline system a plant-based diet with plenty of dark green vegetables, healthy oils (olive, coconut, and flaxseed), nuts and beans is recommended," she adds.

9. Chicken

"Phosphate (phosphorous) is readily available in just about any diet (meats, fish, dairy, nuts, and beans are notable sources) and its deficiency is exceedingly rare," say Galanis and Dorfman. Thus, eating lean meats, such as chicken, fish, beef or poultry, could be beneficial. "Phosphorus can help create strong bones. It also acts as a direct stimulator of old/weakened bone break down which, in turn, activates the bone building cells," further explains Blanchard.

10. Breakfast Cereal

Often breakfast cereals are fortified with bone-boosting nutrients, advises Galanis and Dorfman. Furthermore, breakfast cereals boast other nutrients, such as fiber, magnesium and iron, as told by the USDA in interview with Livestrong, nutrients that can protect the body from various diseases. However, be wary of sugar and bad fats! Make sure to check labels before purchasing.

11. Beans

Beans are great for bone health, according to Galanis and Dorfman, as they are high in phosphorus, as well as estrogen, calcium and magnesium. Beans also make for an excellent meat-less source for vegetarians and vegans who do not consume meat and/or dairy products and are in need of bone-boosting nutrients. Furthermore, "beans are superior source of potassium," says Alicia Ward, VP of Marketing at Beanitos over email with me. "Those that get enough potassium have healthy bones and well developed muscles which can help with being active," she adds.

In order to combat aging and gradual degradation of bone density over time, maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet and exercise habit can help strengthen bones and minimize loss. Eating foods and drinks high in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, as well as magnesium, can help, along with exercise, sleep and stress-reduction techniques.

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