Build Strong Bones With These Diet Tips

foods with more calcium than milk yogurt

Osteoporosis, the most common metabolic bone disease, affects one in four women and one in eight men over the age of 50. Although these statistics seem grim, there are many things you can do to prevent, delay, or reduce bone loss.

I recently presented to a group of over 20 middle-aged women and men about the importance of bone health and diet. By empowering them with this knowledge, rather than preaching to them about what they should eat, they could make simple changes to improve their overall diet and prevent future ailments.

Osteoporosis is a result of a severe breakdown of the bone, leading to a porous, low-density bone. Too much pressure or weight placed on that bone will lead to a fracture. Changing your diet and exercise regimen can help you preserve your healthy bones.

Who’s At Risk?

Women over 50 and men over 70 are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Lower levels of estrogen are a major risk factor for increased bone loss in women. Other risk factors include family history, low physical activity, low bone density, low body weight, low calcium intake, vitamin D deficiency (especially those with celiac or Crohn’s diseases), smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, and long-term corticosteroid and anticonvulsant use. How do you get strong bones? Your diet makes a difference.

How Does Diet Play a Role?

Calcium is a major component of the bones. The bones act as a reservoir to help regulate blood calcium levels.

Low levels lead to the release of a hormone called parathyroid hormone: it makes your kidneys work harder to prevent urinary excretion of calcium, stimulates production of vitamin D from the kidneys to maximize absorption of dietary calcium in your intestines, and breaks down your bones to release calcium into the bloodstream. Therefore, it is essential that you consume enough calcium in your diet to prevent the breakdown of your bones and keep healthy bones.

However, calcium must be accompanied by weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking, to strengthen the bones and prevent bone loss.

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

Here’s how to get healthy bones: start consuming more calcium and vitamin D. Here are the recommended amounts:


Females 18-50 years old 1,000 mg
Females >50 years old 1,200 mg
Males 18-70 years old 1,000 mg
Males >70 years old 1,200 mg

It is recommended to limit your intake to a maximum of 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day to prevent any toxic effects.

Spread your intake out over the day to maximize absorption. Do not consume more than 500–600 mg at one time.

For maximum absorption of calcium, it is imperative to consume vitamin D. As you age, the ability to absorb nutrients decreases—vitamin D improves absorption by up to 80%. For those under 70 years of age, it is recommended to consume at least 600 International Units (IU) per day; if over the age of 70, have at least 800 IU per day. The recommended upper limit is 4,000 IU daily.

Vitamin D does not have to be consumed at the same time as calcium in order for it to work.

What Can Decrease Absorption?

Sodium has been shown to increase urinary excretion of calcium. Limit your intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day—that’s about a teaspoon of salt. Also keep in mind that packaged foods, frozen foods, fast food, and canned food contain sodium.

The effect of caffeine is not fully understood; therefore, limit your intake to 400 mg per day, which is equivalent to three to four cups of coffee (that’s an eight-ounce cup).

Excessive alcohol consumption may impede calcium absorption or lead to a fracture—something you want to avoid to preserve healthy bones. Moderate consumption is okay. Limit your intake to one to two drinks per day for women and two to three drinks per day for men.

Any Other Nutrients to be Concerned About?

Adequate protein intake may help with absorption and prevent urinary excretion. Have two to three servings of protein per day—one serving is equivalent to the palm of your hand (no fingers) and the thickness of your finger. Good sources include lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, and tofu.

Vitamin B12 plays a role in bone formation and tends to be lacking in many people’s diets. It is mostly found in animal products such as eggs, milk and milk products, meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry. Some vegetarian products are fortified, such as breakfast cereals, veggie meats, and soy beverages. You need about 2.4 micrograms (mcg) per day.

Magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K may also play a beneficial role in bone health. There is no evidence supporting the use of supplements; however, you can most likely meet your needs by consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet.  Have a minimum of seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day—one serving equals half a cup. Vitamin K is found in dark leafy greens, where one cup or two handfuls is a serving.

Osteoporosis can seriously decrease your quality of life and put you at risk of fractures if healthy habits are not adopted. If you want to know how to get healthy bones, then start with dietary changes. Leading a healthy lifestyle which incorporates a good balance between diet and exercise will preserve your healthy bones and provide you with a brighter future.

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“Health Canada Scientific Summary on the U.S. Health Claim Regarding Calcium and Osteoporosis,” Health Canada website, 2000;, last accessed May 4, 2013.
“Seniors and Aging- Osteoporosis,” Health Canada web site, 2007;, last accessed May 4, 2013.
Nieves, JW., “Skeletal effects of nutrients and nutraceuticals, beyond calcium and vitamin D,” Osteoporosis International 2013; 24(3):771-786.