Eating a balanced diet will help your bones to maintain a higher level of strength from an early age and continue to maintain that strength for your entire life.
In order to strengthen the bones, you need a sufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D, because vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium.
Some of the issues associated with poor bone health include osteoporosis1, rickets and an increased risk for bone fracture.
All of the nutrients you need to keep your bones healthy are available when you eat a healthy, balanced diet. A good diet is only one of the factors associated with healthy bones. You can also include physical activity or avoid risk factors that could lead to poor bone health.
Generally speaking, 700 mg of calcium daily is sufficient for adults. All necessary calcium should be available in a balanced diet.
Some of the top sources of calcium include the following:
- Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
- Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and okra, but not spinach
- soya beans
- Soya drinks with added calcium
- Bread and anything made with fortified flour
- Fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines and pilchards
- Spinach may seem as if it contains a significant amount of calcium but it also contains oxalic acid. Oxalic acid reduces the absorption of calcium, so it is not a good source of that mineral.
Getting enough vitamin D is difficult when you are relying on your diet alone. Most vitamin D comes from being out in the sun.
Short periods of sun exposure without sunscreen from March till September is typically enough for most people to produce the necessary vitamin D. A vitamin D supplement is also recommended for everyone.
The following are good sources of vitamin D:
- Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel
- Fortified fat spreads
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Some powdered milks
If you have received an osteoporosis diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe both vitamin D and calcium supplements. Osteoporosis drug treatments may also be provided if your calcium intake is especially low.
Who Are at Risk?
Some people are more at risk than others for low levels of vitamin D intake. The Department Of Health recommends that vitamin supplements should be taken by those individuals. The following are some of the people who are likely to be at risk:
All babies and young children, from birth to 1 year of age, exclusively or partially breastfed from 6 months to 5 years old – unless they are having 500ml or more a day of infant milk formula
- All children aged 1 to 4 years old
- People who are frail or housebound
- People who are confined indoors, such as a care home
- People who usually wear clothes that cover up most their skin when outdoors
- People with dark skin such as those of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin
- Menopause Can Play a Role
In the years after menopause, women tend to lose bone density more rapidly. It is partially due to a reduction in the amount of estrogen that is being produced by the ovaries. That hormone protects the bones to a certain extent
Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes vitamin D and calcium can help to slow bone loss during that time.
If You Are a Vegan
The majority of calcium that non-vegans get in their diet comes from dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Vegans can also get calcium in other foods.
The following foods are good sources of calcium for vegans:
- Fortified soy, rice, and oat drinks
- Calcium-set tofu
- Sesame seeds and tahini
- Brown and white bread (in the UK calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)
- Dried fruit such as raisins, prunes, figs, and dried apricots
Very little vitamin D is included in a vegan diet unless you eat fortified foods or take supplements. That is why it is important to ensure that you get enough sunlight exposure in the summer months.
Some vegan sources of vitamin D include the following:
- Exposure to summer sunshine – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn (see sunlight and vitamin D)
- Fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and soya drinks (with vitamin D added)
- Vitamin D supplements
When a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding and if they are following a vegan diet, they need to ensure they are getting the necessary vitamins and minerals to promote a healthy development of the child.
If your baby is being brought up on a vegan diet, they must eat a variety of foods to get enough energy and vitamins that are necessary for healthy growth.
Too Much Vitamin A
According to some research2, there is a link between osteoporosis and vitamin A. If you regularly eat liver, it is recommended that you do not eat it more than once a week or you should avoid supplements containing retinol, which is an animal form of vitamin A.
People who have a higher risk of osteoporosis, such as seniors and postmenopausal women should limit how much retinol they are getting in their diet. It would include limiting fish liver oil. The daily intake should be less than 1.5 mg. This may be accomplished by reducing how much liver is consumed and avoiding retinol containing supplements.
1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351968, Osteoporosis
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013648/, Vitamin D: Link between Osteoporosis, Obesity, and Diabetes?, 2014 Apr; 15(4): 6569–6591.