The Nutrients You Need for Strong Bones
A Sesame-Cabbage Salad with Salmon That Has Them All!
All the yoga and weight-bearing activity in the world will be for naught if you’re not bathing those new bone cells in the right nutrients. Calcium has long been considered king, of course, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 consume 1,000 mg per day; it’s advised that women over 50 and men over 70 get 1,200 mg. (Individuals with osteoporosis may require more.) Dairy products are typically the easiest way to meet these goals: A cup of milk or yogurt, or an ounce of cheese, provides about 300 mg.
But calcium isn’t the whole story, says Amy Joy Lanou, PhD, professor of health and wellness for the University of North Carolina–Asheville and co-author of Building Bone Vitality. “There are at least 17 other nutrients that are important to bone health, including magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins C, D, and K,” she says. All of these nutrients work together in various ways to support bone health. Vitamin D, for example, helps move calcium from the blood into the bone, and vitamin C helps create the collagen matrix of bone. (Collagen fibers twist around each other to create a type of inner scaffolding on which bone minerals get deposited.) Getting all 17 nutrients can seem complicated, but following a few simple guidelines can make it easy.
First, focus on a plant-based diet rich in leafy greens and beans, says Lanou; both are loaded with calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and other key nutrients. (Exceptions include spinach and chard: They hold on to their calcium so tenaciously that it’s not easily absorbable.) Keep in mind that produce is not as high in calcium as dairy—a half-cup of cooked broccoli contains only 40 mg compared to 150 mg in the same amount of milk—so you’ll need more of it; aim for six to nine servings a day.
As for vitamin D, only a few foods provide it—mainly oily fish like salmon, certain brands of UV-B-light-boosted mushrooms (like Monterey), eggs, and fortified dairy or juice—and you’ll need magnesium to access it. “Magnesium helps convert the vitamin D we get from food into its active form,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, author of Body Kindness. Good magnesium sources include pumpkin seeds (about 190 mg per up), halibut (121 mg per 4 oz), and navy and soy beans (120 mg and 147 mg per cup, respectively). Lanou suggests asking your health care provider for a vitamin D blood test; if your results are lower than 50 mg/mL, you may want to discuss a supplement. One pill-free way to boost your D levels: Practice the bone-building sequence outdoors when weather permits; exposing your bare skin (without sunscreen) to sunlight for about 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week is your body’s most efficient way of producing vitamin D, according to Harvard Medical School.
A few more tips: Limit your sodium intake, which pulls calcium out of bone—the maximum daily value is 2,400 mg per day, but lower is better. Also, avoid calcium supplements. They can easily push you past the recommended 1,000 mg a day, which has been linked with increased heart attack risk. And follow a Mediterranean diet that’s heavy on produce, nuts, beans, whole grains, olive oil, and fish, and light on meat and dairy. A 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study found that postmenopausal women who closely adhered to this diet were less likely to experience hip fractures than those who were more lax.
That’s a lot to remember, we know, but it’s not as hard to hit the dietary mark as it might seem. Need some dinner inspiration? Try this delicious, bone-healthy recipe:
Crunchy Sesame-Cabbage Salad with Salmon
This Mediterranean-inspired meal from chef Jennifer Iserloh supplies almost half your daily calcium and is a rich source of bone-supporting vitamin D (salmon) and magnesium (navy beans).
Olive-oil cooking spray
16 oz wild-caught salmon, sliced into 4 fillets
6 dried apricots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 orange, zest and juice
8 cups baby kale
4 cups broccoli florets
4 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup canned, unsalted navy beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp garlic salt
¼ cup almonds, chopped or slivered
2 tsp sesame seeds
Heat oven to 400°.
Coat an 8-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and place salmon in dish, skin-side down. In a bowl, combine apricots, garlic, and zest. Spoon mixture over salmon and bake until apricots brown and salmon flakes when pressed with a fork, 12–15 minutes.
In a second bowl, combine baby kale, broccoli, red cabbage, and navy beans. In a third bowl, whisk together orange juice, sesame oil, mustard, and garlic salt; pour sesame dressing over vegetables and stir until evenly coated. Divide vegetables among four plates. Remove skin from salmon and place fish over vegetables. Garnish with almonds and sesame seeds; serve immediately.
NUTRITIONAL INFO 517 calories per serving, 22 g fat (3 g saturated), 47 g carbs, 14 g fiber, 37 g protein, 404 mg sodium