Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on February 19, 2020
1. Go darker with your greens.
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Nothing beats calcium for your bones. Sure, you can get it from dairy, but it’s also found in lots of vegetables. Why not do both? One great choice: dark leafy greens such as bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, collard greens, and turnip greens. One cup of cooked turnip greens has about 200 milligrams of calcium (20% of your daily goal). On top of that, dark greens also have vitamin K, which can reduce your risk for osteoporosis.
2. This spud’s for you.
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Two lesser known nutrients that help keep bones healthy are magnesium and potassium. If you’re low on magnesium, you can have problems with your vitamin D balance, which may affect your bone health. Potassium neutralizes acid in your body that can leach calcium out of your bones. One delicious way to get some of both of those nutrients is by eating a baked medium-size sweet potato with no salt, which has 31 milligrams of magnesium and 542 milligrams of potassium.
3. Start your day off tart.
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Add a grapefruit to your breakfast and you’ll be doing more than waking up your taste buds. Citrus fruits have vitamin C, which has been shown to help prevent bone loss. One whole pink or red grapefruit has about 88 milligrams of vitamin C, giving you the amount you need for the entire day. Can’t handle the sourness of a grapefruit? A navel orange comes in close with 83 milligrams.
4. Get figgy with it.
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If you’re looking for bone-strengthening fruits, figs should be near the top of your shopping list. Five medium fresh figs have around 90 milligrams of calcium and other skeleton-saving nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Fresh figs are grown in California through the summer and fall, but you can find them dried all year. And dried ones are just as good: Half a cup of dried figs have 121 milligrams of calcium.
5. Think beyond canned tuna.
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Salmon and other types of fatty fish offer an array of bone-boosting nutrients. They contain vitamin D, which helps your body use calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which may also aid bones. One of the best ways to buy salmon is actually canned. Three ounces has 187 milligrams of calcium. Why such a high amount? Small, soft bones get included with the meat in the canning process (don’t worry, you won’t even notice them).
6. A superior sandwich spread.
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Made simply from ground up almonds (and maybe a little salt), almond butter is an easy way to boost your calcium intake. Two tablespoons has 111 milligrams of calcium. Plus, almonds contain potassium (240 milligrams in 2 tablespoons) as well as protein and other nutrients that play a supportive role in building strong bones.
7. “Milks” from plants.
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You’d think that by swapping out dairy milk for the kind made from soybeans, almonds, or coconuts, you’d lose all that calcium and vitamin D. But most of the varieties you’ll find in the store have been given an extra boost of those nutrients. Check the label to be sure.
8. Swap in some vegetarian proteins.
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Tofu is a mainstay in Asian cooking, both for its versatility and the fact that it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Half a cup of calcium-enriched tofu contains more than 860 milligrams of calcium. Tofu has other bone-building benefits, too. Research suggests that isoflavones, which are plentiful in tofu, may make soy useful in warding off bone disease in women after menopause.
9. Juice up a classic.
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It may go perfectly with pancakes, but orange juice doesn’t naturally contain much calcium. That said, it can still be a great way to increase your intake. How? Manufacturers often sell versions that have been fortified with calcium (look for it on the packaging). In fact, fortified orange juice has about the same amount of bone-building calcium as dairy milk.
10. A dried fruit often ignored.
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Hear the word “prune” and you probably think of something older people eat to stay regular. But everyone should actually be snacking on dried plums (what is what prunes actually are!). Research has found that eating them every day, along with calcium and vitamin D, can help improve your bone density by slowing the breakdown of bone in your body.
11. Select a smarter sweetener.
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Unlike refined white sugar, molasses is a source of calcium. In just 1 tablespoon of the sweet syrup you’ll get 41 milligrams of calcium. You can do more than bake with it. Try it instead of honey to top your yogurt or oatmeal or mix into a smoothie.
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IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: “Dark Green Leafy Vegetables.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Magnesium.”
Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: “Potassium.”
United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
Zhu, L. PLOS One, October 8, 2012.
Morton, D. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, January, 2001.
Sahni, S. The Journal of Nutrition, October 2008.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin C.”
Cleveland Clinic Wellness: “Daily Wellness Tip.”
Silk company web site.
Hooshmand, S.Journal of Nutrition, September, 2011.
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center: “Osteoporosis Overview.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Calcium.”