If you want strong, healthy bones, then what you put on your plate really matters. The good news is that you can help improve your bone health with every meal and snack if you include a bone-friendly food. Generally, the best foods for healthy bones are fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods, organically grown. Foods that promote your body’s acid/alkaline balance are critical, and this is easy to achieve if you include fruits and veggies. That’s because these foods contain good amounts of nutrients that support that balance, including beta-carotene, fiber, magnesium (RDA, 420 mg), potassium (RDA, 3,500 mg), and vitamin D (RDA, 200 IU).
There’s a lot of emphasis on calcium (RDA, 1,000 mg) for strong bones, but other nutrients are important as well. After all, calcium does not work alone! We’ve already mentioned potassium and magnesium, and we also want to add vitamin K (Adequate Intake, 80 mcg), omega-3 fatty acids (no RDA), and even vitamin B12 (RDA, 2.4 mcg). You will find all of these bone-building nutrients among our ten foods for super bones!
Three other quick recommendations to promote bone health:
- Engage in regular weight-bearing exercise
- Watch your salt (sodium) intake. Sodium increases calcium losses, with 5 to 10 mg of calcium lost with every gram of salt that you consume.
- Skip the soft drinks. Remember, soft drinks = soft bones. Carbonated drinks are high in phosphate, which binds calcium in the intestinal tract and reduces its absorption. Phosphate also forms acid in the blood, and the body then releases calcium from bone into the bloodstream to maintain the calcium-phosphate balance and counteract the acid in the blood.
So, let’s start building healthy bones with ten super foods. Many of these foods can be combined to create extra super bone health treats!
Salmon: One of the most healthful fish, salmon is a favorite among people who like fish and even those who don’t rank this food high on their list of preferred menu items. In addition to its meaty texture and light taste, salmon is an exceptional source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with improved bone density and bone accumulation. The flesh of salmon ranges in color from pink to red to orange, and some varieties are richer in omega-3 fatty acids than others. Chinook and sockeye salmon, for example, contain more of the essential fatty acids than chum. All the way around, salmon packs several bone-building nutrients.
A four-ounce portion of Chinook, baked, with bones, provides about 2 grams omega-3s, 270 mg calcium, 411 IU vitamin D, and 138 mg magnesium. Should you choose wild or farmed? Wild seems the way to go. In a study commissioned by the Pew Foundation, investigators found that farmed salmon had significantly more concentrated toxins, including dioxins and PCBs, than wild salmon. Farmed salmon are also fed antibiotics to help prevent disease and a dye to make their flesh pink. So go wild with salmon and help out your bones!
Collard Greens: This cousin of kale and mustard greens may be one of the best kept secrets of the southern United States. Just one cup of cooked collard greens provides 358 mg calcium, and they are also a good source of magnesium and omega-3s. And when it comes to vitamin K (which has also been named as a contributor to bone health), collard greens virtually explode, providing more than 800% of a person’s daily needs.
As if promoting healthy bones was not enough, collard greens also provide another health benefit. As members of the Brassica family, which includes the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, they have cancer-fighting compounds called sulforaphane. Lightly steamed with fresh garlic and onions, collard greens are a must for bone and overall health.
Orange Juice (fortified): Orange juice is nearly synonymous with vitamin C, but how about calcium? Many brands of orange juice are now fortified with calcium, providing approximately 30 to 35 percent (300 to 350 mg) of an adult’s recommended daily allowance of the mineral. Oranges naturally contain about 50 mg of calcium, and fortifying OJ with calcium increases this mineral six- to seven-fold.
Here’s another bone-associated benefit from orange juice. In the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer Incidence (EPIC)-Norfolk study, the researchers found that among the more than 25,000 subjects, those who had the highest intake of carotenoids, zeaxanthin, and A-cryptoxanthin (all phytonutrients found in oranges), had a much lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who had consumed the least amount. Looks like anyway you squeeze it, orange juice is a great choice for bone and joint health.
Sardines: These nutritious little fish are named after Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy where they once flourished. Because they are so perishable, the most common way people enjoy sardines is from a can. Sardines are considered a very safe fish to eat, because they consume only plankton, and so they do not accumulate toxins such as mercury and PCBs as many other, larger fish do.
A 3.25 ounce serving of sardines provides 63% of vitamin D, 35% of calcium, and an excellent amount of omega-3s, along with a whopping 137% of vitamin B12, a nutrient that has also been named as possibly contributing to bone health. Sardines are one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health because it increases the body’s absorption of calcium. Phosphorus is also found in significant levels in sardines, and this mineral is important in strengthening the bone matrix. Let’s not forget the role of vitamin B12. This nutrient helps bring down high levels of homocysteine, a substance that is involved in the development of osteoporosis. That’s a lot of bone-boosting help from such a little fish!
Rice beverage (fortified): You may know it as rice milk, but it isn’t really milk at all. Rice “milk” is a type of beverage that is processed from rice, most often brown rice, and then frequently fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, much like cow’s milk is. Rice beverage tends to be slightly sweet, and this sweetness is the result of enzymatic action that occurs during processing. Commercial rice beverage is made pressing the grains through a mill stream using diffusion, although home recipes may involve the use of rice flour and brown rice protein.
For a bone-healthy beverage that does not contain cholesterol or lactose, fortified rice beverage is a good choice. One 8-ounce serving provides a significant amount of your RDA for calcium (30%), vitamin D (25%), vitamin B12 (25%), and phosphorus (15%). Rice beverage is a popular choice of people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to soy, do not consume dairy products, or who want something delicious, nutritious, and different. Whether you get it plain or flavored with vanilla or chocolate, rice beverage is a healthy choice for your bones.
Figs: If the only time you have eaten figs is when they were served as part of a popular cookie bar, then you are missing out on a real treat. Naturally sweet and delicious both fresh and dried, figs are a member of the mulberry family and come in various colors and textures spanning more than 150 varieties. But figs are more than just a good-tasting fruit: they can also help your bones. Ten fresh figs provide 220 mg calcium, 110 mg magnesium, and 1,480 mg potassium, a mineral that may counteract the increased urinary calcium loss that is caused by the high-salt diet so many Americans follow. Figs also provide 30 mcg vitamin K and 90 mg phosphorus. So much packed into a little fruit!
If you shop for dried figs, look for organic varieties or for those that say “no sulfites.” Sulfur-containing compounds are often added to dried fruit to prevent oxidation and loss of color. Sulfites can cause allergic reactions in a small percentage of the population.
White beans: White beans is a whole class of legumes that includes Cannellini, Great Northern, Michelite, navy, Robust, Sanilac, and others. There is a story behind each of the varieties, such as navy beans, which were a staple food of the United States navy during the early 20th century. They, along with their cousins, often do not get the recognition they deserve, because they are a powerhouse of nutrition. Not only are white beans an excellent source of virtually fat-free protein, one cup of cooked beans provides nearly 50 percent of your daily requirement for fiber. And then there are the bone-boosting properties of these little white marvels.
Depending on the type of white bean you choose, 1 cup of cooked beans can provide about 161 mg calcium, 113 mg magnesium, 202 mg phosphorus, and 1,004 mg potassium. That’s pretty impressive. And white beans are so versatile, you can include them in soups, salads, stews, bean spreads, casseroles, and let’s not forget baked beans!
Oatmeal, instant: What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “oatmeal”? Childhood? Cold winter mornings? That it can lower cholesterol? We bet you didn’t think of calcium. Yet instant oatmeal is a very good source of calcium, as well as cholesterol-lowering fiber, B-complex vitamins, and iron. It’s so easy to make, even the busiest executive and mom has time to make instant oatmeal in the morning, or even for a snack!
One cup of cooked fortified instant oatmeal provides 187 mg calcium, 61 mg magnesium, 180 mg phosphorus, and 143 mg potassium. You can increase the bone-enhancing quality of oatmeal by adding other ingredients from this list, namely figs and sesame seeds, or even rice beverage. Add a glass of fortified orange juice, and you have done your bones a tremendous favor, all in one meal!
Winged beans: Well-known in the far east, winged beans (also known as princess beans and Goa beans) have winged their way to the United States, and it’s about time. These highly nutritious beans are flat and sport scalloped “wings” along four edges. All parts of the beans are edible, including the pods, the beans inside, the flowers, tubers, and the shoots. Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) lovers say the taste is somewhere between asparagus and snow peas, and they reportedly are great on the grill.
Winged bean pods grow up to 9 inches in length, and encase calcium-rich beans (seeds) that provide a whopping 801 mg of the bone-friendly mineral per 1 cup serving. In fact, winged beans have the highest calcium content of all legumes. The beans are also an excellent source of magnesium (326 mg), phosphorus (821 mg), and potassium (1,778 mg).
Winged beans have not yet made their way into most mainstream grocery stores, but they can be found in Asian markets and natural food stores. Gardeners like winged beans because they are highly resistant to pests and disease. Although winged beans grow mostyly in hot, humid climates such as India, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia, certain varieties are found in abundance in the United States. Let’s hope they wing their way onto your plate soon!
Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds are much, much more than the little seeds that top a loaf of bread or a bun. Since ancient times, dating back to 1600 BC or earlier, sesame seeds have been an honored condiment. Did you know that the phrase “open sesame!” refers to the sesame seed pod, which opens when it matures? What pops out is a real bone-healthy treat!
Sesame seeds have a nutty taste that complements its excellent nutritional value. A mere ¼ cup of these crunchy seeds, roasted or dried, provides 351 mg calcium, 126 mg magnesium, and 226 mg phosphorus. Sesame seeds can be sprinkled on cooked vegetables, tossed into a salad (and the salad dressing!), added to stir-fry, used as a topping for oatmeal and other cereals, and baked into breads. Another way to enjoy the taste and nutrition of sesame seeds is as sesame butter (tahini), which provides about 426 mg calcium per 3.5 ounce serving.
Sesame seeds are always available and an easy way to add more calcium and other bone-boosting nutrients to your diet. Sprinkle some today!