Nutrition for healthy bones

A friend recently broke a bone, and as the doctor was reviewing the X-ray with her, he asked “Do you get a lot of calcium?”  She replied, yes, from some dairy foods.  “Good”, he said.  End of discussion.


The mainstream, but faulty, understanding of bones is that they are blocks of calcium.  The more calcium you take, the more is stuck to your bone structure.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In fact, bones are complex living tissues, and the main component is…. protein.  When you have a broken bone, does your doctor ask you about your protein intake?  Maybe she should.  Studies of elderly women with poor protein intake show that, when they boost protein, their bones get stronger.

Here’s another myth about bones: taking vitamin D will ensure that you have strong bones.  This belief is related to the role vitamin D plays in calcium absorption.  And vitamin D is certainly a piece of the healthy bone puzzle.  But it can’t make up for generally poor nutrition, and lack of all the other nutrients necessary for bone strength, besides calcium and vitamin D:

  • Vitamin K is best known as an essential part of the blood clotting process, which uses calcium.  But it also seems to have a significant role in bone health.  Three proteins critical to bone mineralization are dependent on vitamin K.  Where do we get vitamin K?  Leafy green vegetables.
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper

Most foods have a few of these nutrients, but a few foods are bone nutrition powerhouses.


Milk, yogurt and dairy foods are traditionally promoted for healthy bones, but canned salmon, tofu (and other soy foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D) and legumes are also great.  Note, the only foods on this list with significant vitamin K content are greens.  Foods like nuts may also be high in some of these nutrients, but they’re also high calorie, so don’t plan to get all your bone nutrition from nuts.

The take-away message: whether you’re recovering from a broken bone, or you just want to make sure your bones stay healthy, focus on foods that contain plenty of bone nutrients, not just calcium.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2019 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.