Sticks and stones won't break your bones if you pay attention to what you eat. Sure, you can take supplements to make up for a short fall, but there's no better way to maintain bone strength and density—and avoid breaks and osteoporosis in later years—than through proper nutrition.

Calcium is the mineral that makes up most of our bone material, but vitamin D and protein are important for bone health, too. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends most adults consume between 1000 and 1300 mg of calcium and between 600 and 800 mg of vitamin D daily to keep bones healthy. You also need between 50 and 65 mg of protein.

Most Americans consume far more protein than they need and get most of their vitamin D from the sun. It's calcium that's a little trickier to get. You can get enough calcium by taking your vitamins, but the body absorbs nutrients best through the foods you eat. So open wide and choose regularly from these super foods.

1. Dairy products. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of easily digestible calcium. Eight ounces of skim milk has 306 mg of calcium. A cup of low-fat yogurt has 415. One ounce of low-fat mozzarella has 207 mg. (Note: Greek yogurt is a wonderful source of protein but not so much for calcium.)

2. Leafy green vegetables. Collard greens, kale, bok choy, and other dark green leafy veggies have as much calcium as some dairy products. For example, a cup of cooked collard greens has 357 mg of calcium. A cup of cooked fresh kale has 94.

3. Beans and peas. Black eyed peas, fresh English peas, kidney beans, pintos, and other legumes provide plenty of calcium along with protein and other nutrients. Eight ounces of black eyed peas has 211 mg of calcium, fresh peas have 94 mg, and a bowl of baked beans has 154 mg.

4. Soy products. Tofu, soymilk, and edamame beans offer an excellent non-dairy source for calcium. One cup of edamame beans (unprocessed soy beans) has 211 mg of calcium. Tofu has 163 mg for a quarter of a block and a cup of soymilk has 61.

5. Fish. Salmon, sardines, and some other fish are perfect calcium-rich foods. Canned varieties that include bones are richest. Three ounces of canned salmon has 181 mg of calcium and a tin of sardines has 325 mg.

6. Nuts. Most nuts contain some calcium, but almonds have more than others. One ounce (about 24 nuts) contains 75 mg of calcium.

Vitamin D: Does Sunshine Alone Do the Job?

The sun is a natural source of vitamin D and experts say most people absorb as much as they need with just 10 to 15 minutes in the sun per day (without sunscreen). Other experts say however, that a quick sunbath won't provide enough to meet all your metabolic needs. Functional medicine physician, Liesa Harte, MD says, "Vitamin D is a critical co-factor in the operation of at least 200 genes, many of which are detoxification genes. There have been thousands and thousands of chemicals introduced into our world over the past two to three decades, and we need vitamin D to help us metabolize and detoxify them." Ask your doctor if you should take a vitamin D supplement.

Protein Pointers

It's probably no coincidence that many calcium-rich foods are also great sources of protein. Dairy products, beans, peas, soy, fish, and nuts along with meats are your best protein-packed picks.

Consume a wide variety of healthy foods and ask your doctor if taking a vitamin supplement is a good idea. Bon appetite!

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.




United States Department of Agriculture
National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24
Calcium, Ca (mg) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, sorted alphabetically

Harvard School of Public Health
"Calcium Sources in Food"

National Institutes of Health
Office of Dietary Supplements
"Calcium and Vitamin D"