For healthier, stronger bones, be sure to include these foods in your diet.
Cheese, milk and yoghurt are all rich in calcium and vitamin D. Don’t be afraid to opt for full cream/full-fat options over low-fat if you don’t have any cholesterol or cardiovascular issues. The reason being is that full-fat is the least processed type of cow’s milk. The fat allows for greater absorption of fat soluble vitamins found in milk such as vitamin D, A and E.
Calcium– The most well-known nutrient for bone health. Calcium is the major building-block of bone tissue (bone contains 99% or the body’s calcium) and is essential for formation, construction and maintenance of bone matrix.
Bones act like a calcium bank, if you do not consume enough calcium in your diet, the body will withdraw calcium from your ‘bone bank’ for use in other parts of the body. If your body withdraws more calcium than it deposits, your bone density will gradually decline and you may become at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Ways to consume more dairy:
- Milk can be consumed in smoothies, cereal, teas and coffees
- Yoghurt – choose a Natural or Greek style yoghurt. You can get them in small tubs for easy transport and snacks or buy larger tubs and use in smoothies, on top of fruit, in homemade salad dressings, soups and sauces and use it in recipes as a replacement for cream or sour cream.
- Cheese – cottage cheese and ricotta are very versatile and can be used in pasta sauces, salads, casseroles, on toast or deserts. Hard cheeses like cheddar and feta can also be used in salads and sandwiches or wraps.
Your body gets most of its calcium from the food that you eat. If your calcium levels are too low, then your body will take the extra calcium it needs from your bones. Other nutrients that can help optimise the absorption and benefits of calcium in the body are vitamins A and C and the mineral boron. For vitamin A, choose foods such as carrots, sweet potato, offal, kale spinach or broccoli. For Vitamin C, choose foods such as citrus fruits, capsicum, kale, broccoli, berries. For boron, choose foods such fruit, leafy vegetables and nuts.
Particularly the yolks. Rich in vitamin D, they are an extremely easy way to get a small portion of your daily percentage.
One conventionally grown egg yolk contains between 18 and 39 IU of vitamin D, which isn’t very high. However, free range chickens that roam outside in the sunlight produce eggs with levels that are three to four times higher.
For the average adult, the adequate intake for vitamin D is 200IU per day as we get older our requirements jump to 600IU per day.
Vitamin D is probably the second most important nutrient for bone health because without it, our bodies cannot effectively absorb calcium as well as regulate how much calcium enters and leaves bone tissue in response to the body’s other calcium requirements. Vitamin D also helps support the growth and maintenance of the skeleton and regulate calcium levels in the blood by reducing the amount of calcium you lose in the urine.
The best way to prepare and consume eggs for maximum benefit
Most methods for cooking eggs is fine when it comes to optimal vitamin D intake i.e. poached, scrambled, boiled. However, you can expect to lose a little more vitamin D from foods cooked in oil and at high heats.Fried eggs lose about 20% of their vitamin D, compared to only 10% lost in the poaching process.
Therefore, if you’re going to fry them, do it on a non-stick pan without oil and on a lower temperature.
More importantly is the choice of egg you buy. Avoid caged eggs and opt for organic free-range eggs for maximum vitamin D composition.
For optimal vitamin D absorption and utilisation, you may want to pair with foods containing boron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin A.
3. Deep Sea Oily Fish
These include sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring and salmon. Their soft, edible bones store calcium just as our bones do. They’re also rich in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. The same for tuna, which can deliver high doses of vitamin D in a small tin.
These types of fish are not only rich sources of vitamin D, which we have established is vital for bone health, they also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids may play an important role in the regulation of bone metabolism by influencing calcium balance. Essential fatty acids appear to increase the amount of calcium your body absorbs, diminish the amount of calcium lost in urine, improve bone strength, and enhance bone growth.
The best way to prepare and consume the fish for maximum benefit
As mentioned earlier, some vitamin D might be lost in high cooking temperatures. However, consuming fish in way that you prefer is better than consuming no fish at all. I suggest sashimi, ceviche, poached, steamed, baked or lightly grilled.
The fact that fish contains good amounts of vitamin D and calcium means that you can consume it by itself for optimal benefits. The addition of green leafy vegetables will boost that even further.
4. Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, broccoli, kale and silverbeet are among the heroes. Not only can a cup of these leaves provide almost a quarter of your daily calcium requirements, they’re also packed with fibre, iron and vitamin A. It is well known that leafy greens are very good for general health but they also contain good amounts of vitamin K, which is vital for bone health and reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
Vitamin K, which the body also makes in the intestine, helps bind calcium into bone. Beta-carotene (vitamin A) and other carotenoids found in these foods are important for the development of bone cells and protecting bone mineral density. A deficiency in vitamin A limits calcium absorption and metabolism, which may result in poor bone growth and risk of osteoporosis.
The best way to prepare and consume these veggies for maximum benefit
Eating these vegetables raw are the best way to ensure maximum nutrient value and absorption as any form of cooking method will result in nutrient losses. Some cooking methods are better than others. Steaming, stir frying, sautéing and baking are good methods, whereas boiling is the most intensive method and results in greatest losses.
It is important to note that there are some phytonutrients and antioxidants that actually increase in value due to the cooking process e.g. lycopene in tomatoes.
Since calcium levels aren’t as high in vegetables compared to dairy foods and fish, it’s important to pair them with other foods that will maximise absorption. The good news is that vegetables can be eaten as a side dish or added to most, if not all, main meals. Just make sure these meals contain lean sources of protein and healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds or plant-based oils
5. Citrus Fruits
These fruits are rich in vitamin C, which mineralises bones and stimulates the growth of bone forming, while preventing too much degradation of bone by inhibiting bone absorbing cells. Vitamin C is also vital to collagen production and reducing oxidative stress. Our bone matrix consists of mainly collagen, which acts like a glue that holds together ligaments, tendons and bones.
Some good citrus fruits include oranges, grapefruit and lemons.
The best way to prepare and consume these fruits for maximum benefit
Raw fruit is best. Frozen is also good as it locks in the nutrients. Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, it is lost in cooking methods such as boiling. Levels also decline with long storage time.
* Any great food combinations we should look at for maximum calcium/nutrient absorption from citrus?
Citrus fruits contain minimal calcium and most of the vitamins and antioxidants are absorbed just fine by themselves without the addition of other foods.
6. White Beans
White beans, also known as navy beans, offer multiple health benefits. They are loaded with antioxidants and are also a good source of fibre and protein, and rank low on the glycaemic index. They also contain bone supporting nutrients including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium.
White beans offer a generous quantity of magnesium, which is an important mineral that performs several key functions in the body. Magnesium maintains the electrical potential across nerve and muscle membranes, and it helps you handle stress better. It is also necessary for healthy bones.
A diet rich in beans and other magnesium containing foods is particularly important to those who are at an increased risk of magnesium deficiency.
Phosphorus is needed for the body to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues, including bone.Since most of the body’s phosphorus is found in the bones and teeth, it’s important the balance is right.
The potassium in white beans is important for retaining calcium in the body and bones and making sure it’s not lost through urine.
The best way to prepare and consume white for maximum benefit
White beans can be bought in dried form or in cans/tins. For maximum nutritional value, it’s best to buy them dried and pre-soak them for a couple of hours before cooking them on the stove top to soften them before consuming.
* Any great food combinations we should look at for maximum calcium/nutrient absorption from white beans?
Since white beans are a good protein source, they can replace animal-based protein in a main meal. Due to them containing multiple nutrients, they can be consumed by themselves e.g. like baked beans, or added to meals containing other vegetables for optimal nutrient absorption such as salads, casseroles, soups or even turned into a dip.
7. Sesame Seeds
These versatile, tasty little seeds pack a bone-densifying punch of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Sesame seeds are also an excellent source of copper, iron and zinc.
In addition to calcium, the impressive levels of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium and phosphorous that are found in sesame seeds can be a major boost for your body’s bone health. These minerals are vital for creating new bone matter, and strengthening and repairing bones that may be weakened by injury or the onset of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The best way to prepare and consume sesame seeds for maximum benefit
It’s important to note that there is a substantial difference between the calcium content of hulled versus unhulled sesame seeds. When the hulls are removed from the seed, they will contain substantially less amounts of calcium. Tahini—the spreadable paste made from ground sesame seeds—is usually made from hulled seeds and so it will usually contain lower amount of calcium. You can however, buy unhulled tahini, which is a much better option.
Therefore, the best way to consume sesame seeds is in their raw natural form.
8. Collard and Mustard Greens
Both these greens are cousins of kale and they are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium. They’re also extremely high in vitamin K. They are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are all important to bone health.
Vitamin K also supports bone health by helping your blood to transport calcium throughout your body. Since osteoporosis is driven by inflammation, the omega-3’s in collard greens act as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce this risk.
As mentioned previously, potassium helps with reducing the risk of calcium excretion through the urine, which can be caused by high salt diets. The potassium helps to keep calcium in bones and lessens the risk of osteoporosis.
The best way to prepare and consume them for maximum benefit
Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is best consumed with healthy fats for maximum absorption in the body. Therefore, you can consume them raw in salads with avocado, nuts and seeds, and a homemade dressing made from avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil.
It’s very important not to overcook collard greens. Like other cruciferous vegetables overcooked collard greens will begin to emit the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooking. Therefore, if you cook them, use a steaming method or quick stir fry so this does not occur and they retain most of their nutrients, rather than boiling them where they are more likely to leach nutrients.
For optimal nutrition absorption, eat collard greens raw or slightly cooked (not at high temperatures) and eat them with foods containing healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds, plant-based oils, tahini etc.
Oats are the best whole grain food to help prevent osteoporosis. Oats are rich in the right minerals to promote bone mineral density.
Oatmeal contains calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper – minerals that are found in the bone and improve the uptake of calcium into the bones. Therefore, consuming them for breakfast with the addition of milk can help you prevent osteoporosis.
The best way to prepare and consume oats for maximum benefit
When choosing oats, always opt for rolled or steel-cut. These are the least process and therefore retain more of their nutrients compared to “quick” or “instant” oats.
To get the most out of their nutrition, cook them gently on the stove top with water or milk and serve with yoghurt and nuts and seeds for some added bone loving nutrients. Alternatively, add them raw to a homemade muesli mix of rolled oats, raw nuts and seeds, and dried fruit e.g. figs.
By consuming oats with milk and/or yoghurt, you are increasing the calcium content of your meal. By adding nuts and seeds through your porridge you are also increasing vital nutrients for bone health such as zinc, magnesium, potassium. Finishing it off with some dried fruit e.g. figs, you are also giving a big boost of phosphorous to the meal.
What is the RDI for calcium?
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for specific population groups are as follows:
- Pre-menopausal women aged 19–50 (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) = 1,000mg per day
- Post-menopausal women aged 51–70 = 1,300mg per day
- Men aged 19–70 = 1,000mg per day
- Adults over 70 years = 1,300mg per day
Calcium content of specific foods for a standard serve:
|Food||Standard serve||Calcium per serve (mg)||%RDI|
|Skim milk||1 cup (250mL)||341||34|
|Full cream milk||1 cup (250mL)||304||30|
|Soy milk||1 cup (250mL)||309||31|
|Tofu, firm||1 cup (250mL)||832||83|
|Low fat natural yoghurt||200g tub||488||49|
|Cheddar cheese||1 slice||160||16|
|Tinned sardines||90g tin||486||49|
|Tinned salmon||90g tin||279||28|
|Chickpeas, canned||1 cup||90||9|
|Bok choy, raw||1 cup||65||7|
Best sources of calcium from dairy
- Milk – full cream, calcium fortified, lite or skim (low fat versions have a higher calcium content), goats
- Yoghurt – low fat versions have higher levels. Opt for natural, Greek style or kefir yoghurts.
- Cheeses e.g. low fat mozzarella, Swiss, goat, low fat cheddar, ricotta, cottage
Best sources of calcium for lactose-intolerance
- Calcium fortified nut or rice milks
- Soy and soy milk
- Nuts and seeds, nut butters, tahini
- Leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, watercress
- Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, anchovies, tuna (tinned or fresh)
- Calcium fortified breakfast cereals
- Legumes e.g. chick peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, navy, lentils
What can you do if you have osteoporosis or low bone density?
Seeing a Dietitian to help you optimise your dietary intake of essential nutrients for bone health as well as the use of the right supplements.
- Reduce intake of foods that contribute to inflammation such as saturated fats and trans-fats.
- Weight-bearing exercise that is not overly stressful on potentially fragile bone is required to maintain adequate bone density and strength.
- Eat a minimally processed diet rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and bioflavonoids
- Protein is essential for connective tissue support, and should be consumed regularly
- Smoking cessation is the highest priority for people who smoke
- Minimise intake of caffeine, alcohol and salt