Nourish your bones: Foods for optimal bone health

17 April 2023 dot 4-minute read
Healthy Body Diet and nutrition Listicle Bone health Eat Well
Your diet is key to building and maintaining bone health. (Credit: Getty Images)
Bone health should be a top priority for adults. Our bones continue to grow and change as we age, requiring special nutritional support. While genetics play a role in your bones’ quality, lifestyle choices can also make a difference. This includes making healthier food choices rich in calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients and minerals.
A balanced diet improves bone density, supports bone formation and facilitates nutrient absorption. Most importantly, eating healthy can reduce the risk of chronic diseases that can negatively impact bone health.
Here are food options that provide the necessary calcium, vitamin D and protein to help build and maintain healthy bones.


It's important to consume calcium daily to protect your bone structure and strength. (Credit: Getty Images)
Calcium is a mineral essential for building and maintaining healthy bones throughout life. Your bones and teeth store most of the calcium your body needs. As old bone cells break down, the body builds new bones, so you need calcium-rich foods to protect the bone structure and strength.
Based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), you typically need 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Foods that supply calcium include:
  • Dairy products: Milk, cheese, yoghurt
  • Green leafy vegetables: Broccoli, kale
  • Shellfish, soft-boned fish: Sardines
  • Soy, tofu, edamame
  • Grains and nuts
The ideal way to get sufficient calcium is to eat various healthy foods from all the different food groups. For example, eating two slices of rye bread with two servings of cheese and one glass of milk amounts to around 700 mg of calcium

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays many roles in bone health. One of its functions is to help the body absorb calcium, making it an essential factor in bone metabolism. The RDA recommends 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily.
The body produces vitamin D with exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. But excessive UV rays can be harmful, so use adequate sun protection to protect skin.
Consuming vitamin D-rich foods to maintain optimal levels. Good sources of vitamin D include:
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel
  • Beef liver, red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Oatmeal
  • Fortified foods: Breakfast cereals, juice


Getting adequate protein is crucial to maintaining bone mass and aiding calcium absorption. A Journal of Nutrition study showed that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may affect bone formation and contribute to bone loss.
Nutritionists recommend up to 100 g of protein daily (10 per cent to 35 per cent of your calories), complemented with a balanced serving of fruits and vegetables. Proteins can be found in foods such as:
  • Lean meat: Chicken, turkey
  • Fish
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Caring for bones

The International Osteoporosis Foundation states one in three women and one in five men aged 50 and above will have an osteoporotic fracture. (Credit: Getty Images)
Maximise bone health by making smarter nutritional and lifestyle choices. Here are some tips to help the body absorb and retain essential minerals and reduce risk of bone loss.

1. Avoid too much salt, fast food and processed products

Eating foods high in sodium causes the body to lose calcium and can lead to bone loss. Per World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation, your sodium intake shouldn’t exceed 2000 mg/day.

2. Eat less sugar

A Nutrition Journal review review of sugar’s role in bone health shows it might be as dangerous as salt. Studies have found that overconsumption of sugar has the potential to increase the risk of osteoporosis by inducing inflammation and reducing calcium intake. American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than nine teaspoons per day for men and six teaspoons per day for women.

3. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol

Excess caffeine and alcohol consumption may decrease calcium absorption and slow the bone renewal process.

4. Stop smoking

Nicotine can slow the production of bone cell creation in the body.

5. Increase physical activity and exercise

Weight-bearing workouts and resistance training, like weightlifting and walking, help strengthen bones and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. A European Journal of Endocrinology study finds that a 16-week resistance training could increase bone mineral density and help prevent osteoporotic fractures. The same study also suggests continuous training is needed to maintain bone health.
Strong and dense bones provide you with the stability and support to move and perform daily activities. These active tissues continuously adapt to the body's changing needs
Engaging in regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and other essential nutrients and getting enough rest ensures better bone health. You also reduce the risk of developing bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
While calcium and vitamin D supplements are readily available, it's best to ask your doctor about options to ensure you can be active throughout your life. A medical protection plan can put you in touch with a healthcare provider about adequate vitamin D levels and appropriate dietary choices.
The simplest way to get your nutrients is still through a balanced diet. Combine it with weight-bearing workouts and resistance training like brisk walking, and you can maintain excellent bone health at every stage of your life.
World Health Organization. 2022.  Ageing and Health. [online] [Accessed on 12 December 2022]
World Osteoporosis Day. 2014. About Osteoporosis. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
International Osteoporosis Foundation. Key Statistics Asia. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
USQ. 2021. 10.1 The Functions of the Skeletal System. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
NHS. 2022. Food for Healthy Bones. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
Science Direct. 2016. Chapter 25 - Dietary Factors Affecting Osteoporosis and Bone Health in the Elderly. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
Pubmed. 2013. Skin color is relevant to vitamin D synthesis. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
NCBI. 2013. How can I get enough calcium? [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
Clinical nutrition research. 2015. The role of calcium in human aging. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
IOF. Cheese and Broccoli. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
Age and Ageing. 2014. Understanding vitamin D deficiency [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
The Journal of Nutrition. 2003. Low protein intake: the impact on calcium and bone homeostasis in humans. [online] [Accessed on 6 December 2022]
NCBI. 2018. Not Salt But Sugar As Aetiological In Osteoporosis: A Review. [online] [Accessed on 9 March 2023]
Heart. 2019. How much sugar is too much? [online] [Accessed on 9 March 2023]
Nutrition Journal. 2021. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] [Accessed on 9 March 2023]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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