By the time you’re 30, your bones have reached their maximum size and density (peak mass). After reaching peak mass, your body continuously removes old and damaged bone and replaces it with new bone.
As you get older, you lose bone faster than it’s replaced, and that puts you at risk of developing osteoporosis. You can dramatically lower your risk by making sure your diet supplies the nutrients needed to build new bones.
Our physician, Behnam Khaleghi, MD, at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center specializes in preventing and treating osteoporosis. He understands the essential role of diet and can recommend any changes you may need to make to restore strong bones.
Top nutrients for strong bones
Your body must have a steady and sufficient supply of three key nutrients to prevent osteoporosis: calcium, vitamin D, and protein.
Calcium is the primary building block of bones (and teeth), but it also fills other roles. As an electrolyte, calcium is crucial for keeping your muscles, nerves, and heart functioning.
When calcium levels fall too low, your body takes the mineral out of your bones to keep your vital organs working. You need to consume 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily to cover all your body’s needs and keep your bones healthy.
Some of the best calcium sources include:
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
- Oranges and orange juice
- Dried figs
- Chinese cabbage
Green leafy vegetables are great for calcium, and they’re good sources of many other nutrients that support healthy bones.
Your body can’t absorb and use calcium without vitamin D. Your body converts sunlight into vitamin D, but you still need to get 600 international units (IU) through your daily diet.
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fatty fish (trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oil are the top sources. You’ll get a small amount of vitamin D from egg yolks, beef liver, and mushrooms treated with ultraviolet light.
Most people get their daily supply through fortified foods. Vitamin D is typically added to milk and ready-to-eat cereals.
Your bones are 65% minerals, mostly calcium and phosphorus. The remaining 35% is mostly collagen, which is a protein.
A diet that’s low in protein is directly associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis. That means you also need protein from fish, poultry, meat, dairy, eggs, beans, and soy products to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Essential supporting nutrients
Even though calcium, vitamin D, and protein are the primary nutrients for preventing osteoporosis, you need a wide range of vitamins and minerals to support the metabolic processes that build and repair bones.
For example, your body needs protein together with vitamin C and zinc to produce collagen.
Other nutrients needed to maintain healthy bones include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folate (vitamin B9)
A well-balanced meal plan provides the full range of nutrients. You could follow the Mediterranean diet or DASH eating plan. Both focus on healthy foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, fish and other lean proteins.
You could also follow the healthy eating plate guidelines. This approach recommends that half of your plate should contain fruits and vegetables and the other half should be divided between whole grains and lean proteins.
Watch out for salt
You need some sodium (salt) because it’s an electrolyte that controls fluid volume and blood pressure. But the amount of sodium you consume is directly related to the loss of calcium in your urine. The more sodium you consume, the more calcium you lose.
Most of the sodium in your diet comes from salt added to foods during processing, not from salt you sprinkle on food at the table. You can dramatically reduce your salt intake by avoiding or limiting processed foods such as cold cuts and cured meats like hot dogs, fast foods, salty snacks, bread, and canned foods (unless they’re low in sodium).
Call us at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center or request an appointment online if you have any questions about preventing osteoporosis or you would like an evaluation to determine your risk.