Imagine living in a home that is under constant renovation. Sounds exhausting, but you do it every day. Your bones are the framework of your body, and they are always remodeling, breaking down old bone and replacing it with new bone. When you’re young, your body makes more new bone than it breaks down. But as you age, bone formation slows down, and bone breakdown eventually takes the lead.
While you can’t stop this process, you can take steps to slow it down. Find out how nutrients work together to build and maintain strong bones throughout your life.
“Drink milk so you can build strong bones!” You’ve heard this saying about calcium since you were young, and it remains just as important as you age. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Adults need around 1000-1300 mg each day to support bone health.
Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth, but this mineral also plays a vital role in healthy nerve and muscle function. Put simply: without calcium, your heart wouldn’t beat. You can’t live without it. That’s why your body controls your blood levels of calcium very carefully. If you don’t get enough calcium through your diet, your body will steal it from your bones and teeth to make sure your nerves and muscles can function properly.
Protect your bones by choosing calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified orange juice. Kale, broccoli, and Bok choy are great plant-based sources of calcium. Spinach contains the most calcium of all leafy greens, but don’t rely on it for your calcium needs. Other nutrients in spinach make it difficult for your body to absorb the calcium.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps absorb calcium and supports muscle health. You can get vitamin D in three ways:
- Sunlight. It’s unclear exactly how much sunlight exposure you need for your body to make enough vitamin D. Those who live at northern latitudes, those with darker skin, and older adults may have more trouble making enough vitamin D from the sun. Sunscreen also limits vitamin D production, but experts still recommend using sunscreen if you’re outdoors for more than a few minutes to protect your skin from UV rays.
- Food. Few foods contain vitamin D, so it can be difficult to meet your vitamin D needs through food alone. Still, fatty fish like salmon or tuna, liver, and egg yolks are all good sources of vitamin D. Dairy milk and breakfast cereals are also usually fortified with vitamin D.
- Supplements. Vitamin D supplements are available as vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Research suggests that vitamin D3 may be more effective than vitamin D2 at maintaining healthy vitamin D levels.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D for adults is 600-800 IU (15-20 mcg). However, many experts suggest that the amount needed to maintain healthy vitamin D levels is much higher – up to 2,000 IU (50 mcg) of vitamin D per day.
Even though you can get vitamin D three different ways, many still struggle to get enough. In fact, over 90% of Americans do not meet the dietary requirement for vitamin D. Make the most of vitamin D-rich foods, get plenty of safe sun exposure, and talk with your doctor to find out if you would benefit from a vitamin D supplement.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body – talk about an essential nutrient! When it comes to bone health, magnesium helps activate vitamin D and is involved in bone formation.
The RDA for magnesium ranges between 310-420 mg, depending on age and gender. Include magnesium-rich foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, yogurt, and avocado. You can even include magnesium in your dessert! Dark chocolate is a great source of magnesium – but moderation is key.
Vitamin K activates proteins that help build strong bones. It exists naturally in two forms: Vitamin K1 and Vitamin K2.
Vitamin K1 is primarily found in plant foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, Swiss chard, and other dark, leafy greens. Vitamin K2 is found in animal-based products and fermented foods like pork, chicken, some hard cheeses, eggs, and natto.
Research suggests that K2 may be the best form for bone health, but there’s no specific dietary requirement set for vitamin K2 at this time. The RDA for vitamin K is 90 mcg for women and 120 mcg for men.
Because vitamin K is also involved in blood clotting, large amounts of dietary or supplemental vitamin K may interfere with blood-thinning medications like warfarin. If you take this medication, make sure you discuss any concerns you may have about vitamin K with your healthcare team.
Your body is your home, and you have to live in it forever. Keep these nutrients in your toolbox to help you build and maintain a solid structure and keep your bones healthy for a lifetime.