We diet and exercise to look after our heart health, we eat protein to get strong muscles, we support our immune system by eating more than the recommended 5 a day – but how many of us are thinking about our bone health?
We think of frail bones as a problem that will inevitably come to us in old age, when actually we should constantly look after our bone health. Having healthy bones means having strong bones and for that, we need to stay active and follow the right diet with the right nutrients.
What nutrients do we need for strong bones?
Protein is the basic building block for our body, and this is true for bones as well. Without protein, we cannot maintain healthy, strong bones and teeth- so make sure to eat enough protein-rich foods in your everyday diet.
Calcium is a key mineral for bone health and teeth. It helps build our bones and keep them strong, especially in older age when the bone density decreases. It’s important for our bones to get enough calcium no matter our age, and the best way to reach the recommended intake is through food. Your doctor can advise if you need to take any supplements.
Calcium works best when it teams up with vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, our body does not absorb the calcium. So not getting enough vitamin D can increase our risk of developing bone conditions such as osteoporosis. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we’re exposed to the sunshine from April to September, but it can also be obtained through food sources such as oily fish, red meat and eggs.
Vitamin K is important to bone health because it helps stimulate cells involved in bone formation. This vitamin is also involved in blood clotting, making sure we can healing wounds effectively. We can get the recommend dose of vitamin K from our diet and, since this vitamin is fat-soluble, we don’t need to get it every day – whatever we don’t use is stored for later.
Phosphorus is another important mineral to our wellbeing, and among its many other “duties”, it helps build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus can be found in many foods, usually the same foods that contain calcium such as dairy, chicken and wholegrains - so it’s easy to get the amount we need just from our diet.
Food for strong bones
Everyone knows that dairy is a good source of calcium and protein, but did you also know that you can also get your phosphorus from it? Moreover, the options on the dairy list are plentiful so even the fussiest of eaters can enjoy something: you have milk, so many cheeses, yogurt, cream… Yum.
If you don’t consume dairy at all, you can find plenty of alternatives fortified with calcium such as tofu or drinks made out of soya, rice or oats.
For a good dose of vitamin K, look no further than your dark leafy veg. Kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage , okra – there are plenty of options on the list that you can include in your meals to boost your vitamin K intake. Add them into salads, stir-fries, soups or stews. Or even just add them as a bit of “green” to your plate. And an extra bonus… some of these veg are also rich in calcium.
Including plenty of fish in your diet comes with multiple health benefits thanks to its rich nutritional value. Fish in general contains a good amount of phosphorus, and sardines (and other similar fish with soft edible bones) are a good source of calcium. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel is a great source of vitamin D.
Cereal, especially wholegrain cereals, can be a good source of both calcium and phosphorus. Most white and brown breads are nowadays fortified with calcium, while certain breakfast cereal are fortified with vitamin D. So eat a moderate amount of pasta, breads and grains and reap the benefits.