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12 Foods to Boost Bone Health

Getting the calcium and vitamin D you need is easier than you think -- if you eat the right foods.

Suppers for Strong Bones

If cereal's not your thing -- or you'd rather spread your calcium across the day for better absorption -- try adding a few calcium-rich foods to your dinner or lunch. Make an omelet with a bit of cheddar cheese, sautéed greens, and salmon. Or whip up a scrambled-egg stir-fry by adding Swiss cheese, broccoli, and sardines to your eggs, and you've got a lunch for strong bones. If you like soups and stews, try adding salmon, kale, or turnip greens to your other favorite recipes.

Just as your bones store calcium, fish bones do, too. Those tiny bones in canned fish like sardines and salmon hold high levels of calcium, so be sure to eat those, too.


Lunch, Dinner, and Snack Foods

Average Calcium (mg)

Canned sardines, 3 ounces


Swiss cheese, 1 ounce


Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce


Canned salmon, 3 ounces


Turnip greens, 1 cup


Kale cooked, 1 cup


Broccoli, raw, 1 cup



How to Find Calcium-Rich Foods

Try this trick to help you decipher the food labels and "Nutrition Facts" you now see on packaged foods.

The calcium amounts you'll see listed are percentages, based on the standard of 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. So to figure out how much calcium you're actually getting in each serving, it's easy. Just add a zero to the percentage of calcium you see on the label to convert it to actual milligrams (mg). So, for example, if a cereal box says "Calcium: 50%," then that cereal has 500 milligrams of calcium in each serving.

Bone Health and Vitamin D

The experts all agree: Don't forget your vitamin D. You need it to absorb the calcium from all those calcium-rich foods.

Your skin normally makes vitamin D from sunlight. "But as people age," says Mystkowski, "their skin doesn't convert vitamin D as well." So while the standard recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 400 IU of vitamin D, he advises taking even more when bone loss is a problem.

"I'd say most people with osteoporosis should be on 800 IU a day," says Mystkowski. And he advises even higher doses -- up to 1,200 IU of vitamin D a day -- if you have bone thinning and live in a climate without much sun. People with darker skin or who live in cities with intense air pollution absorb less vitamin D from sun, and may want to bump up their vitamin D, too.

Calcium-rich foods are often high in vitamin D. Sardines, herring, and salmon have high levels of vitamin D, and many calcium-enriched foods have vitamin D added. And it's an easy vitamin to supplement. "Vitamin D is a little bit easier to absorb, so you can usually get away with taking supplements once a day," says Mystkowski.

So Mom was right after all: Drink your milk. Especially if it's fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Reviewed on April 30, 2009
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Osteoporosis Glossary

  • Bone Mineral Density - A measurement of the amount of calcium and minerals in bone tissue.
  • Calcium - A mineral in (and vital to) your bones. If your body lacks calcium, it takes it from bones.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) - a test used to measure bone mineral density.
  • Osteoporosis - A decrease in bone density, which increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D - A vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium.
  • View All Terms

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