5 Plant-based, Bone-Friendly Foods to Improve Your Bone Health & Fitness
by Laurie Wertich 9/1/2016, updated 9/2018
A woman has more than a one-in-three chance of an osteoporosis-associated bone break in her life. One in ten women have osteoporosis by the time they turn 60. The risk doubles by age 70.
That’s why you should take steps now to keep your bones strong.
Calcium is essential, of course, but it’s not the only nutrient you need — and dairy isn’t the only way to get it. In fact, a new study found that the women who drank three or more glasses of milk were actually more likely to sustain hip and other bone fractures.
A varied, plant-based diet is the key to a strong skeleton, experts say. “A bone-protective diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of the books The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life.
“Calcium is available in green vegetables, dried beans, black strap molasses, sesame seeds, and almonds,” Palmer notes. “And other nutrients are important for bone health, such as vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Antioxidants, such as lycopene are also linked with bone protection.”
So if you’re not a dairy fan, wipe off the milk mustache. We asked nutrition experts to name their favorite bone-strengthening foods. Here’s what they said.
- Go for the Greens: Dark leafy greens — collard greens, kale, and turnip greens — are among registered dietitian Kimberly McDevitt’s favorites. Just a cup contains 20 to 25 percent of your daily calcium needs. Greens also are chockfull of vitamin K, which reduces the risk of fractures. “Cook your greens,” urges McDevitt, who provides nutritional counseling in New York. That will reduce the oxalates — naturally occurring plant chemicals — that get in the way of calcium absorption.
- Try Tofu: Packed with protein and rich in calcium, organic tofu is among registered dietician Desiree Nielsen’s favorite bone builders. “Protein is critical to maintaining strong, healthy bone tissues; it’s the framework upon which bones are built,” says Nielsen, author of Unjunk Your Diet. Most tofu varieties are calcium-fortified. And it’s anti-inflammatory — inflammation is an enemy of strong, healthy bones.”
- Fabulous Fungi: Buy mushrooms that have been exposed to light, or chop store-bought mushrooms and place them in the sun near an open window. Then add to your stir-fried tofu and greens, and you’ll be treating your body to a hefty dose of Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and reduce your fracture risk. Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light provide as much vitamin D as supplements, according to a 2013 Boston University Medical Center study. “Mushrooms are also an excellent source of copper and zinc, two nutrients involved in bone mineralization,” says clinical nutritionist Mary Hartley, RD, MPH.
- Yes to (Coconut) Yogurt: Coconut is all the rage, and that goes for yogurt, too. Registered dietitian Lisa Ellis loves Greek-style coconut yogurt (also called cultured coconut milk). “It contains calcium, Vitamin D, and significant amounts of magnesium, which is associated with bone mass,” says Ellis, who has a private dietary practice in New York.
- Prunes, Please: Dried plums are sweet, convenient, bite-sized bone builders. “They may reverse bone loss,” says Hartley, who is the resident nutritionist for the Diets in Review website. Studies have shown that prunes increase bone mineral density and prevent age-related bone loss — benefits that other dried fruits can’t match.
- Facts and Statistics. International Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics. Accessed December 19, 2014.
- Michaëlsson K, Wolk A, Langenskiöld S, et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) 2014; 349:g6015
- Sharon Palmer, RDN. Available at www.sharonpalmer.com/book.php. Accessed Sept 19, 2018.
- Vitamin K. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available at umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-k.
- Beasley J1, Larson J2, LaCroix A2, et al. Associations Between Biomarker-Calibrated Protein Intake and Bone Health in the Women’s Health Initiative. The FASEB Journal. April 2013; 27 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 249.2
- Unjunk Your Diet. Desiree Neilsen, RD website.
- Redlich K1, Smolen J1. Inflammatory bone loss: pathogenesis and therapeutic intervention. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 11, 234-250 (March 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrd3669
- Cashman, K. Diet, Nutrition, and Bone Health. The Journal of Nutrition. November 2007; vol. 137, no. 11, 2507S-2512S
- Boston University Medical Center. (2013, April 22). Mushrooms can provide as much vitamin D as supplements. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130422132801.htm
- Hooshmand S, Chai S, Saadat R, Payton M, Brummel-Smith K, Arjmandi B. Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. British Journal of Nutrition. Volume 106; Issue 06, September 2011, pp 923-930. DOI: . Published online: 31 May 2011
- Hooshmand S1, Arjmandi BH. Viewpoint: dried plum, an emerging functional food that may effectively improve bone health. Ageing Research Reviews. 2009 Apr;8(2):122-7.