You may not give your bones much thought, but they’re an important part of your overall health. Like the foundation and framing of a house, bones are a critical part of your infrastructure. They don’t just support your limbs; they also make it possible for you to move around freely and protect your internal organs.
Did you know that bones are made from growing tissue? The tissue is mostly composed of collagen, a type of protein, and calcium, a mineral. Throughout your life, there’s a continual formation and withdrawal process. Up until your 20s, your bones form faster than you lose bone tissue.
However, as you age, you run the risk of losing bone tissue faster than it forms. That leaves you vulnerable to osteoporosis, a disease that increases the likelihood that you’ll break a bone because the bones are weakened.
But there’s good news. You have the power to strengthen your bones, starting with the foods you add to your plate. Don’t feel like chugging a glass of milk though? No problem. Other calcium-rich foods deliver key minerals to support healthy bones and a healthy body.
Dark, leafy greens
If you want to build strong bones, consider reaching for dark, leafy greens like kale, collards, turnip greens and bok choy. Milk has around 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium in each cup. One serving of cooked kale, which is 2 cups, has 350 mg. One serving of cooked bok choy has around 316 mg.
Dark, leafy greens are also a good source of vitamin K and magnesium, which are two more key nutrients that contribute to bone health. However, keep in mind that some greens contain oxalates, which can make it harder to absorb calcium. Eating these greens paired with other nutritional powerhouses helps balance things out.
Salmon, mackerel and sardines are just a few fish that provide an ample supply of vitamins for bones and muscles, including calcium and vitamin D. These foods are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which boost bone health too.
Canned fish is among the best options because the small edible bones add an extra punch of calcium. Three ounces of canned salmon gives you roughly 21% of your recommended daily intake of calcium. One can of sardines provides 35%.
Nuts and seeds
Bone-building minerals might be just a snack away. Many popular nuts pack a punch, providing key nutrients to support a healthy body and strong bones. Nuts and seeds contain ample amounts of magnesium, which contributes to bone strength while minimizing calcium loss.
Some of the best options include almonds, chia seeds, poppy and sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Keep a bag of these nuts and seeds handy throughout the day. Your body will benefit from a boost in calcium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Calcium isn’t the only nutrient that you need to prioritize. Potassium plays an important role in neutralizing acids that can take calcium out of your bones. In addition, magnesium supports balanced vitamin D levels, which is important for overall bone health.
One food for strong bones and muscles that contains both nutrients? Sweet potatoes. One medium sweet potato has approximately 540 mg of potassium and 30 mg of magnesium.
Orange veggies and fruits
Carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes and sweet potatoes are all good sources of vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin supports the cells that build strong bones. Word to the wise: too much vitamin A can reduce bone density. Be careful to avoid overdoing it, particularly if you take vitamin A supplements.
Vitamin C gets tons of press for the role it plays in supporting a healthy immune system. But it’s also an important nutrient for bone health. It also plays a key role in collagen production in the body. Research shows that increased levels of vitamin C are linked to increased bone density. Citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemons and oranges aren’t the only food to consider. Other good sources include bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, kale and papaya.
Dried plums and figs
Craving a sweet treat? These dried fruits aren’t just sweet; they’re also a good source of vitamins for bones and muscles, like bone-building calcium.
Eating 1/2 cup of dried figs provides 120 mg of calcium. Dried plums are a rich source of vitamin D and calcium too. Slice them, dice them and add them to your cereals and salads. Or simply eat them whole.
If you prefer fresh figs, that’s okay too. Just five medium-sized figs provide 90 mg of calcium.
Legumes and beans
Small, but mighty, these nutritional powerhouses provide fiber and protein. They’re also calcium-rich foods that contain ample amounts of potassium and magnesium. Some of your best options include wing beans, which contain 244 mg of calcium in each cup. One cup of white beans gives you 13% of the RDI for calcium.
Building healthy, strong bones is the key to keeping yourself mobile and resilient. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in foods for strong bones and muscles can help.
If you’re concerned about your bone density, schedule an appointment with a Mercy Health primary care provider today.