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Updated on April 14, 2009



Bones are the superstructure of the body, the framework on which everything else is built. Though they seem hard and dense, bones are actually fibrous and resilient, especially when well-nourished with the vital nutrients that keep them strong. Primary among these is calcium the body's most abundant mineral, which is stored in all of our 206 bones. When bones lose their calcium  stores, they become fragile, brittle, and more likely to break-this is a debilitating condition known as osteoporosis. Getting plenty of bone-building nutrients can help you keep your framework strong throughtout life.


Bone density is determined by a bone mass measurement, which indicates whether your bones are becoming smaller or weaker. The reading is compared to the norm for your age, size, and sex, as well as to the optimal peak bone density of a healthy, young, same-sex adult.


Although women are four times more likely to lose bone density, men are not immune, making foods that build bone important to both sexes. The first step is to get plenty of calcium, a relatively easy thing to do because so many foods contain it. These include dairy and soy products, vegetables like brocoli, and calcium-fortified products such as rice and whole-grain cereals and breads. Vitamin D and phosphorus are other important nutrients needed for bone strength. Vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese may affect bone health as well. It's also important to regularly engage in weight-bearing exercises like brisk walking, aerobics, and resistance training to help build new bone.


  • Brocoli
  • Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, rice, and breads
  • Canned sardines (with bones)
  • Milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Soy products: tofu, tempeh (soybean cakes), and soy milk
  • Sunflower and sesame seeds



Don't let too much sodium get into your diet: When your body removes excess sodium, precious calcium goes with it. In addition, too many carbonated beverages can throw off your phosphorus-calcium balance, making the effects of a diet already low in calcium even worse. You should also avoid coffee and alcohol, both of which can leach calcium from your bones, as well as excessive animal protein from meats, which may speed the normal rate of bone loss in older people.


As children and teens, our bodies build up bone tissue to use for the rest of our lives. For adults, the goals are to build as much new bone as possible and to maintain the bone density we already have, thereby helping to prevent osteoporosis, which affects 28 million Americans. The nutrients in food play a critical role in supplying bones with raw material, so here's what to look for to make the most of what you eat:

CALCIUM Strive for 1,000 mg. (the Daily Value) to 1,500 mg. of calcium a day. Dairy foods are great sources, and they provide about 70 percent of the calcium in the American diet. Note that reduced-fat and fat-free dairy product are just as rich in calcium as full-fat varieties. Good sources include yogurt, cheese (particularly Swiss and Parmesan), milk, and cottage cheese. If you dont't like milk or cannot tolerate it, check food labels for calcium-fortified products, including juices, cereals, rice, and breads. Foods like brocoli and canned sardines with the bones also provide calcium in amounts that, while smaller, can add up if you eat them on a regular basis or combine them with other sources. Soy foods such as soybeans, tofu, tempeh, and miso soup offer calcium and isoflavones, both of which may help prevent bone loss after menopause.

VITAMIN D If you're getting calcium from milk or other fortified foods, you're also getting vitamin D, which your body needs in order to make use of calcium. Just one 8-oz. glass of milk provides 25 percent of the Daily Value-10mcg.-of vitamin D.

PHOSPHORUS Phosphorus, which teams up with calcium to build bones, is found in virtually all foods to some degree, so it's easy to get the Daily Value (1 g.) in your diet. Foods especially rich in phosphorus include halibut, yogurt, salmon, milk, chicken, beef, oatmeal, brocoli, and lima beans. Avoid phosphorus supplements, however, because too much may actually cause your body to lose valuable calcium.

VITAMIN K Studies have linked adequate intake of vitamin K to fewer bone fractures in women. The daily value for vitamin K is mcg., which is easy to get from spinach, cabbage, and brocoli as well as milk, eggs, and liver.


A multivitamin helps ensure that you get adequate amounts of nutrients essential for bone health:


Calcium*          160 mg.

Vitamin D         400 IU.

Phosphorus    110 mg.

Vitamin K        25 mcg.

*Take single supplements of calcium in 500-mg. increments twice a day; it is better absorbed in smaller doses with food. Be sure to discuss any supplement use with your doctor before starting.


Some postmenopausal women experience such accelerated bone loss that even bone-protecting foods and ample exercise may not be enough. Their doctors might recomend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to build new bone. These measures are not for everyone, however; your doctor can offer advice on the best osteoporosis prevention plan for you.


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