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There’s More to Healthy Bones than Calcium

Man and woman in front of x-ray machine

When it comes to building and maintaining strong bones as we age, we hear a lot about getting enough calcium and vitamin D. But research suggests that many other nutrients are also beneficial for bone health. Here they are along with some good food sources:

  • Magnesium – About 60% of the magnesium in our bodies is found in our bones. Studies suggest that magnesium may improve bone mineral density, and not getting enough may interfere with our ability to process calcium. Sources:  Green Leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, potatoes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Smaller amounts are found in bananas, broccoli, raisins and shrimp
  • Phosphorous -- Phosphorus is a component of every cell in our bodies and supports building bone and other tissue during growth. About 85% of the phosphorus in our bodies is found in our bones. Sources:  milk, yogurt, cheese, peas, meat, eggs and some cereals.
  • Boron – may enhance calcium absorption. Sources:  Avocado, nuts, peanut butter, prune juice.
  • Protein -- We use protein to build tissue during growth and to repair and replace tissue throughout life. We also need protein to help heal fractures. Sources:  Complete protein comes from animal sources including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt. Incomplete protein comes from plant sources including legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables.
  • Potassium -- The role of potassium in bone health relates to the ability of potassium salts to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. Sources:  Milk, yogurt, chicken, turkey, fish, many fruits such as bananas, raisins and cantaloupe, and many vegetables such as celery, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes.

The following vitamins and minerals help certain enzymes and local regulators function properly which in turn helps our bodies form the optimal bone matrix or structure for bone strength. [more]

  • Vitamin C – To get enough vitamin C, eat citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, cabbage and spinach.
  • Vitamin K – Food sources include: green vegetables such as collards, spinach, salad greens and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and plant oils and margarine.
  • Manganese – Nuts, legumes, tea, and whole grains
  • Zinc – Good sources of zinc are red meat, poultry, fortified breakfast cereal, some seafood, whole grains, dry beans and nuts.
  • Iron – Meat, poultry, vegetables and fruits as well as fortified breads and cereals are good sources of iron.

You may have noticed a common theme among the food sources for these nutrients: fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Several studies with adults have found a positive association between fruit and vegetable intake and bone mineral density.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Better Bones

Linus Pauling Institute


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