10 Foods for Strong Bones

Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K are essentail nutrients for healthy bones. Registered Dietitian Katherine Brooking shows you good food sources.

Calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin K for bone health

Eating smart for bone health

You are your best ally when it comes to building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. What you eat plays an important role in determining your bone health. Specifically, consuming adequate amounts of calcium (1000 mg for adults ages 19-50) and vitamin D (200 IU for adults ages 19-50) is essential for strong bones. Magnesium and vitamin K are also important for bone health. Here are 10 tasty sources.

Calcium for strong bones

Lee Harrelson

Bone-Friendly Nutrient: Calcium

Calcium can help to build stronger, denser bones early in life and keep bones healthy as we grow older. It is a mineral that is essential for life, yet the majority of Americans do not get adequate calcium on a daily basis.

Calcium-rich food for strong bones: yogurt

Randy Mayor

Calcium Source: Yogurt

Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium. Many brands contain about 40 percent of daily calcium needs based on an 8-oz. serving. (We recommend low-fat and fat-free.) Plus, yogurt is a tasty and versatile food. Have it for breakfast topped with two tablespoons of granola, as a snack on its own, or create a terrific healthy dessert of Fruit Salad with Honey-Yogurt Sauce.

Calcium Source: Cheddar Cheese

Becky Luigart-Stayner

Calcium Source: Cheddar Cheese

Just 1.5 oz. of reduced-fat cheddar cheese will meet about 30 percent of your daily recommendation for calcium. Add a slice to sandwiches, salads, or enjoy as a snack with crackers. Another delicious way to incorporate cheddar into your diet is with our Chili-Cheese Black Bean Enchiladas.

Calcium Source: Milk

Randy Mayor

Calcium Source: Milk

No surprise here, milk is another excellent source of calcium. An 8-oz. glass of milk contains about one-third of your daily calcium needs. (Skim or low-fat is best.) Most brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, another nutrient essential for bone health. (More on vitamin D in a minute). If you’re not a dairy fan or are unable to tolerate lactose, look for a fortified soymilk, or try a lactose-free milk, like Lactaid. Don’t like milk by itself? Try our Vanilla Honey-Nut Smoothie, which gets a nutrient boost from soybeans, tofu, and frozen yogurt.

Calcium Source: Tofu

Becky Luigart-Stayner

Calcium Source: Tofu

A great non-dairy source of calcium is tofu. Just one-half cup of firm tofu fortified with calcium has about 20 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium. (Not every tofu is made this way, so look for labels that declare it's a good source of calcium.) Tofu is also a good source of protein and a wonderful addition to any stir-fry.

Bone-friendly nutrient: Vitamin D

Ian Bagwell

Key Nutrient: Vitamin D

Vitamin D also plays a critical role in building and protecting your bones. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, and studies show that people with low levels of vitamin D have lower bone density or bone mass. They are also more likely to break bones as they age. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, but you can get it from sunshine, and more foods are being fortified with this very important nutrient. While cod liver oil is perhaps the best natural food source of Vitamin D, there are other, better-tasting options.

Vitamin D source: salmon

Randy Mayor

Vitamin D Source: Salmon

Salmon is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D. Just 3.5 oz. of cooked salmon supplies about 90 percent of your daily vitamin D needs. What's more, salmon is a great source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Try to have at least one salmon dish every week. For a delicious dinner meal, try this Sizzling Salmon-and-Spinach Salad with Soy Vinaigrette.

Vitamin D source: Canned Tuna

Randy Mayor

Vitamin D Source: Canned Tuna

If weekly fresh fish is out of your budget, an economical source of vitamin D is canned tuna. Three ounces of canned tuna contains approximately 50% of your daily vitamin D requirement. Concern has been raised about mercury levels in some fish and shellfish, such as tuna. However most experts agree that the benefits of moderate fish consumption (up to 12 oz. of low-mercury fish per week) far outweigh the risks.

Vitamin D source: Fortified Cereal

Deborah Ory

Vitamin D Source: Fortified Cereal

Some ready-to-eat cereals are fortified with vitamin D. Check the labels and look for products that have at least 10 percent of the daily value of this important nutrient.

Magnesium for strong bones

Randy Mayor

Essential Mineral: Magnesium

The mineral magnesium provides many functions within the body, and one of them is to help keep bones strong (50 percent of body magnesium is found in bone). Eating a variety of foods can help to ensure adequate magnesium intake. Women over 30 should aim for 320mg of magnesium daily, while men need 400 to 420mg. These numbers are easy to obtain from a variety of legumes, nuts, whole grains, and dark leafy vegetables (spinach and quinoa are especially good sources). Read on for a couple of our favorite magnesium-rich snacks.

Magnesium Source: Almonds

Kim Cross

Magnesium Source: Almonds

Just one ounce of almonds (a small handful--about 24) provides about 20 percent of your daily magnesium needs. Almonds make a terrific snack on their own (just remember to watch portion size; one ounce of almonds contains about 164 calories, 3.4 grams fiber, and 15 grams fat, though only 1 gram saturated fat). They're also great as a topping for cereal, yogurt, or salads.

Magnesium Source: Soybeans

Randy Mayor

Magnesium Source: Soybeans

Soybeans are another excellent source of magnesium. About ½ cup cooked soybeans will meet approximately 20 percent of your daily magnesium needs. Edamame--plain steamed soybeans--make a great snack. You can incorporate them in to salads and stir-fries for added protein and texture. For a delicious and different twist on a classic Middle Eastern dip, try our Soybean Hummus recipe.

Essential Nutrient: Vitamin K

Randy Mayor

Key Nutrient: Vitamin K

Vitamin K serves many functions within the body, but mounting scientific research has linked this important nutrient with bone health. Recent studies indicate that vitamin K may help prevent bone resorption and adequate dietary intake is likely necessary to prevent bone loss. Vitamin K needs can be met by consuming a diet rich in leafy greens.

Vitamin K Source: Leafy Greens

Vitamin K Source: Leafy Greens

Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard and collard greens are very high in Vitamin K. Just 1/2 cup of these greens, cooked, can contain more than 500% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K.

Important health note: Misuse of vitamin K in supplement form can produce toxicity, and if you are taking the blood thinning drug Coumidin or any other anticoagulant drugs please check with your doctor before increasing or decreasing your vitamin K intake. When obtained from food sources, 500% of the DV may sound like a lot, but vitamin K consumed through food rarely produces toxicity.

About the author:  Cooking Light contributor Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University.

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