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A Diet of Whole Foods

The best way to get all the nutrients you need is to fill your plate with whole foods. Nuts, beans, whole grains, and fruit and vegetables are naturally rich in an array of nutrients essential to healthy bones. Tucker’s research suggests that fruits and vegetables are just as important as dairy products for bone health.

Choosing nutrient-rich foods is particularly important as you get older since most people's calorie requirements go down. "The challenge is to get as much nutrition into a limited number of calories," says Zelman. She suggests a few simple tips:

  • Avoid highly processed foods. Processing strips some foods of their natural nutrients. Even when vitamins or minerals are added back, processed foods usually lack the full array of nutrients found in natural foods.
  • Choose whole foods.  Whenever you have the choice, go for foods with whole grains, which are far richer in nutrients linked to bone health. Look at the ingredient panel of breads, cereals, and other products made with grain. The first ingredient should be a whole grain.
  • Go for variety. "Especially if you’re cooking for yourself, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut," says Ruth Ann Carpenter, RD, author of Healthy Eating Every Day. "That rut can mean you’re missing out on the variety that ensures a healthy diet." Try a new grain, such as bulgur or quinoa. Choose vegetables from across the spectrum of colors, from leafy greens to red sweet peppers. A colorful diet, nutritionists say, will help ensure a balance of nutrients necessary for good bone health.

When to Reach for Calcium or Vitamin D Supplements

Even the healthiest diet may not provide all the nutrients you need for bone health. If you don't drink milk, for instance, you may be falling short on calcium. Multivitamins or single supplements of specific nutrients can help fill in the gaps.  But before you start taking any supplement, it's wise to talk to your doctor.

How to Strengthen Bones With Exercise

Along with a healthy diet, physical activity is crucial for strong bones. Most people think of exercise as a way to strengthen muscles. "But weight-bearing exercises also put stress on the bones attached to those muscles, stimulating them to rebuild themselves," says Dori Ricci, an exercise specialist in New Jersey.

The most effective exercises for strengthening bones are those that involve weights. Some exercises use the body's own weight, such as deep knee bends or push-ups. Others involve weights that are held, such as dumb-bells used for bicep curls. If you have broken a bone because of osteoporosis or are at risk of breaking a bone, you may need to avoid high-impact exercises such as jumping, stair climbing, or dancing, Instead do low impact exercises such as elliptical machines or stair step machines. Another way to exercise muscles is using stretch bands that provide resistance. Here's what to consider: