Beyond Calcium: 4 Nutrients for Healthy Bones

shutterstock_71392150-1In the quest to get stronger muscles and flatter abs, some people forget about what lies underneath muscle – bone. Bones are the support structure that holds the whole body up, so bone health should be a priority for everyone. Low bone density and osteoporosis is one of the most common health problems women and some men face as they age. That’s why you need to lay the foundation for healthy bones early through exercise and nutrition. To boost bone health, most people know that calcium is important, but it doesn’t act alone. Here are four vitamins and minerals that are “must haves” for healthy bones.


Calcium is the most obvious bone-healthy mineral, but many people still aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet, especially teenager girls and women over the age of 50. The amount of calcium you need in your diet varies with age. Here’s what you should shoot for:

Teens 1,300 milligrams daily
Adults under the age of 50 1,000 milligrams daily
Women over the age of 50 1,200 milligrams daily
Men over the age of 70 1,200 milligrams daily

It’s best to get calcium from dietary sources, but it can be challenging to get enough if you don’t consume dairy products. Some research shows that calcium supplements increase the risk of heart attack, so food sources are the way to go. The best non-dairy sources of calcium include green, leafy vegetables, fortified soy milk, tofu, broccoli, and calcium-fortified orange juice. One cup of collard greens has more calcium than a cup of milk, but, unfortunately, some sources of calcium may not be as absorbed as well as other sources. Tofu, fortified soy milk and fortified orange juice are some good options if you don’t eat dairy.


Magnesium is another mineral that’s important for bone health. In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older participants who consumed more dietary magnesium had greater bone densities. Magnesium makes up about 1% of the mineral in bone, and it has a direct impact on bone metabolism. Unfortunately, not everyone gets enough of this important mineral that’s involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body. Magnesium also helps to control blood pressure and protects against metabolic syndrome. The best dietary sources of magnesium are whole grains, nuts, milk, halibut and green, leafy vegetables. Most adults need between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium a day, while men over the age of 30 should get slightly more.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is common, especially among older people and those who get minimal sun exposure. Vitamin D works in partnership with calcium to boost bone health. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 600 international units of vitamin D a day for adults, and adults over the age of 70 should get 800 international units. Some experts believe these recommendations are too low.

There aren’t a lot of foods naturally high in vitamin D, although some foods are fortified with it. The best natural sources are fatty fish such as salmon, eggs (an Eggland’s Best egg has two times more vitamin D than ordinary eggs ) and yeast. If you don’t get adequate sun exposure, it’s a good idea to have your doctor check a vitamin D level. You may benefit from a supplement.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is best known as a vitamin involved in blood clotting in response to injury, but it also reduces the risk of bone loss and fractures. Vitamin K works in conjunction with vitamin D to improve bone health and it may also affect calcium levels. Women need at least 90 micrograms per day of vitamin K, while men need 120 micrograms daily. To get your vitamin K, think green. Green, leafy vegetables and broccoli are some of the best sources.

The Bottom Line?

Eat for healthy bones by choosing foods that contain these four nutrients for bone health. It’s a natural way to keep your skeleton strong.


BMJ 2010; DOI:10.1136/bmj.c3691.
National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements.
Nutrition. 2001 Oct;17(10):880-7.


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