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Eat Right for Bone Strength

with Joni Gerken

Our bodies reach their maximum bone mass around age 30. Bone mass usually stays stable for awhile with the rate of bone breakdown and rate of bone regeneration being equal until about age 50. After age 50, our bones do not regenerate as quickly as they breakdown and bone mass declines. There are key nutrients our body uses to build bone, which help maximize the rate of bone formation to help compensate for the breakdown and hold onto bone mass. Two major nutrients in the bone building process are calcium and Vitamin D.


Calcium makes up a substantial part of our bones. We do not make calcium within our bodies, so we need to get it from our diet. Calcium is also used for other functions in our body, such muscle contraction, including our heart beating. If calcium is low for these other functions, than our bodies take it from our bones. It is very important for bone strength to get enough calcium in our diets.

Daily calcium intake goals:

Children ages 9-18 years: 1300mg

Adults ages: 19-50: 1000mg

Men 50+ : 1000mg

Women 50+ (Postmenopausal): 1200mg

Hands down, the richest dietary sources of calcium are dairy products. One cup of milk contains 300mg of calcium. If you do not consume dairy due to lactose intolerance or preference then dairy alternatives such as soy, almond, rice, or oat milk can be a good option. Dairy alternatives do not naturally contain as much calcium as milk but are often fortified. Read the label of your milk substitute to make sure it has close to 300mg of calcium. Another great source of calcium is canned fish that is packed with bones, such as sardines or salmon. Some plant-based calcium sources are tofu, almonds, collard greens, bok choy, kale, and white beans. Spinach is another vegetable that is high in calcium, but it is also high in oxalates, which binds with calcium and prevents absorption of calcium in the intestines. If you cannot get enough calcium in your diet then calcium supplements can be a good option, but always talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D helps our intestines absorb the calcium from our food. Our bodies make Vitamin D from sunlight, but we can also get it from the foods we eat. For those of us living about the 37th parallel line that cut between North Carolina and Virginia, it is more important to get Vitamin D from our diet due to reduced sun exposure

Daily Vitamin D intake goals:

Children and adults ages 1-70 years: 15mcg

Adults >70 years: 20mcg

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are great sources of Vitamin D. Cod is a lean fish, but it’s fatty liver is packed with vitamin D, giving cod liver oil a long history as a Vitamin D supplement. Beef liver, egg yolks, and cheese also contain some Vitamin D. Relatively new on the market are mushrooms that have been treated with UV lights to increase their Vitamin D content. There are also Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, juices, and breakfast cereal. Like calcium, supplements can also be an option and there are many that combine both Vitamin D and Calcium.

It is never too late to focus on bone health. If you are lucky enough to start early, you can maximize your bone mass. If you are starting later in life, then you still have opportunity to slow down the rate of losing your bone mass.

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