9 Foods That Will Keep Your Bones Strong for Life

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February 19, 2019
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Feed your frame with these nutrient-dense meals and snacks.

Best Foods for Bones

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but the more likely offender: time. The loss of skeletal strength and density begins at a surprisingly young age.

“Peak bone mass is generally achieved by around age 30, at which point bone formation decreases and bone resorption [the breaking down of bone] begins to exceed formation,” says Jillian Greaves, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., a dietitian and founder of Prevention Pantry.

She explains that as we get older, our bones become more brittle, increasing the risk of fracture. And when bones aren’t in peak form, the potential for injury—especially among women over 50—skyrockets.

“After women go through menopause, bone loss increases due to a drop in estrogen, which can make bones more brittle and increase the risk of fracture,” says Cathy Leman, M.A., R.D.N, founder of DAM MAD About Breast Cancer.

While no one is immune to losing bone mass, ample strength training and plentiful consumption of calcium- and vitamin D–rich foods can slow its deterioration, says Diana Savani, R.D., L.D.N, founder of Eating with a Dietitian.

According to the National Institutes of Health, men older than 50 should aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 600 milligrams of vitamin D per day, while women older than 50 should try to get 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 milligrams of vitamin D per day.

Here are nine foods and recipes that are chock full of bone-building vitamins and minerals.

Bone-Builder #1: Greek Yogurt

You probably know that dairy is a good source of calcium, but what if you have an intolerance to it? Savani’s answer: Greek yogurt.

“While many people may suffer from lactose intolerance as they get older,” she notes, “Greek yogurt can often be tolerated due to the presence of live probiotics to assist with digestion.” It also contains more protein than regular yogurt, which can help promote bone health as well, she adds.

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Make this: Whip up an easy breakfast parfait with Greek yogurt, chopped nuts, and berries, or use it in place of sour cream as a topping on chili or baked potatoes, Savani suggests.

Bone-Builder #2: Fortified Foods

In the grocery store, many packaged foods—including milk and its alternatives, orange juice, oatmeal, and cereal—are fortified with vitamin D. Check the labels next time you’re shopping to make sure you’re buying the fortified versions.

Make this: Blueberry Smoothie Bowl

Blueberry Smoothie

Serves: 1

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 frozen banana, sliced or broken into chunks
  • 1/2 unsweetened almond milk or other nondairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon protein powder (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons granola
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or hemp seeds
  • 2 fresh or dried figs, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs

How to make it:

  1. Combine blueberries, banana, milk, protein powder (if using), and cocoa powder.
  2. Blend ingredients until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Pour into a bowl.
  3. Top with granola, chia or hemp, figs, and cocoa nibs.

Bone-Builder #3: Citrus Fruits

An unsung bone-health hero, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits provide plenty of calcium and vitamin C, both of which have been shown to help prevent bone loss.

One grapefruit is packed with roughly 50 milligrams of calcium, as well as more than 70 milligrams of vitamin C. A navel orange offers up 71 milligrams of calcium, and 98 milligrams of vitamin C.

Bone-Builder #4: Potatoes

While calcium and vitamin D are the heavy hitters when it comes to bone health, magnesium and potassium also play important roles, notes Leman. Magnesium helps your body maintain a proper vitamin D balance, while potassium neutralizes acid levels that can leach calcium out of your bones.

One magnesium- and potassium-packed option that is cheap and easy to prepare: good ol’ potatoes. A medium-size sweet potato offers 31 milligrams of magnesium and 542 milligrams of potassium, and a regular white spud has 48 milligrams of magnesium and a whopping 926 milligrams of potassium.

Make this: Pork Chops with Potatoes, Apples, and Thyme

Pork Chops with Apples

Serves: 2

What you need:

  • 6 baby potatoes (red, gold, or purple), quartered
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 boneless pork chops, 1/2-inch thick (about 4 ounces each)
  • 1 apple, cored and cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  •  1/2 red onion, cut into wedges
  •  2 sprigs thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
  •  1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

How to make it:

  1. Heat oven to 400˚F.
  2. On a baking sheet, toss potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon oil, sprinkle with half the salt and pepper, and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, rub 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over pork chops and sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper. Toss apple, broccoli, and onion with thyme and remaining oil.
  4. Remove baking sheet from oven. Place chops directly on baking sheet and arrange apple mixture around them. Return to oven and bake until potatoes are tender and chops are browned and reach an internal temperature of 145˚F, 10 to 15 minutes. Before serving, drizzle everything with balsamic vinegar.

Bone-Builder #5: Beans and Lentils

One cup of soybeans provides 261 milligrams of calcium, while one cup of black beans boasts about 141 milligrams.

Even better? Beans are a filling (and tasty!) carb replacement. Look for pastas made from chickpeas, black beans, or even edamame at your local grocery store or farmers market.

Make this: Pasta with Grilled Vegetables

Pasta with Grilled Veg

Serves: 4

What you need:

  • 8 ounces edamame spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, halved
  • 2 yellow squash, halved
  • 2 large bell peppers, halved (remove seeds)
  • 2 small red onions, halved
  • 2 firm, ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and halved
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 can (15 ounces) white beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

How to make it:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Preheat grill on medium-high, and lightly oil grates. Mix oil with lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine vegetables. Drizzle over oil and gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Grill veggies until tender and lightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes, turning them over about halfway through. (Retain bowl of garlic oil.) Remove to a platter, let cool, and cut into bite-size pieces.
  5. In bowl of garlic oil, toss cooked pasta with vegetables and beans or chickpeas.
  6. Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving.

Bone-Builder #6: Aged Cheeses

Aged cheeses like cheddar, blue, brie, Parmesan, Gouda, Gruyère, and Swiss contain plenty of calcium, while also providing a special vitamin called K2 that plays a pivotal role in bone health.

“Vitamin K2 activates a special protein whose job is to make sure the calcium we eat gets into the bones where it belongs, while keeping it out of areas where it shouldn’t be, such as blood vessels,” says Doug Cook, R.D.N, an integrative nutritionist.

Bone-Builder #7: Fatty Fish

Add more canned salmon, tuna, and sardines to your diet. “Not only do fatty fish provide a boost of heart-healthy fats, but they also bring along a hefty dose of vitamin D to support calcium absorption in the body,” Savani notes.

Make this: Jeweled Saffron Couscous with Zucchini and Salmon Kebabs

Jeweled Saffron

Serves: 4

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) saffron threads
  • 1 cup whole-wheat couscous
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt + more for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper + more for seasoning
  • 1 pound skinless wild salmon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small zucchini, cut lengthwise then crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 4 lemon wedges
  • 4 wooden skewers

How to make it:

  1. Heat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the broth and saffron to a boil. Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand until couscous is tender and all of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in raisins.
  3. In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt, and black pepper. Thread an equal number of pieces of salmon onto 4 skewers. Brush fish with 1 1/2 teaspoon oil, then rub in spice mixture. Place skewers on the prepared baking sheet, and broil, turning once, until fish is opaque, about 6 minutes.
  4. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm remaining oil until hot but not smoking. Add zucchini and bell pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  5. Divide couscous evenly among 4 bowls. Top with equal portions of zucchini and pepper, 1 skewer of salmon, and 1 tablespoon toasted almonds. Serve each with a lemon wedge.

Bone-Builder #8: Dark Leafy Greens

Just one cup of turnip greens has about 200 milligrams of calcium, or roughly 20 percent of your daily goal, while broccoli packs about 90 milligrams per cup. Amaranth, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, and collard greens are also calcium-rich choices.

Make this: Creamy Amaranth with Kale

Best Foods for Bones

What you need:

  • 1 2/3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup amaranth
  • 4 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 small head kale, stems removed and sliced into thin ribbons (about 2 packed cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese + more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

How to make it:

  1. Bring water to a boil. Add amaranth, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Meanwhile, cover tomatoes with boiling water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and finely chop.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil and shallot. Cook until shallot begins to soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add kale, tomatoes, and thyme. Cook, stirring often, until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir cheese into amaranth until well combined. Divide between 2 bowls and top with kale mixture. Garnish with almonds and more cheese, if desired.

Bone-Builder #9: Pumpkin Seeds

These crunchy seeds are a great source of magnesium. “We all know about calcium for bone health, but we also need magnesium, and most of us don’t get enough of it,” Cook says.

Although eating foods rich in the right minerals is crucial for keeping your bones strong for life, nutrition is only half of the solution. When you sign up for a flip50 membership, you gain access to more than 10,000 gyms with engaging classes and top-notch equipment designed to get your strength-training routine on track.

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