The best foods for healthy bones

Daniel Coughlin

A healthy, balanced diet with skeleton-friendly minerals, vitamins and antioxidants is essential for strong, dense bones. Find out what you need to eat.



“Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining bone health,” says dietitian Claudia Ehrlicher. Along with regular exercise, eating the right foods can help strengthen the bones and reduce inflammation, lowering the risk and easing the symptoms of conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

We all know calcium is the number one nutrient for bone health. But vitamin D, magnesium and a whole host of other minerals, vitamins and antioxidants are also crucial. Filling your diet with foods that are rich in these nutrients is the way forward, so without further ado, here are the key bone-boosting superstars to stock up on.

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Low-fat dairy products

Unless you're lactose intolerant or you follow a vegan diet, you may want to think about increasing your intake of dairy products to maintain optimum bone health. “Milk, cheese and yogurt are the main providers of calcium in our diets, which is vital for strong bones,” says dietitian Helen Bond.

Adults require around 700mg of calcium a day. Luckily, this is easily obtainable from diet alone. Stick to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and low-fat sugar-free bio yoghurt if you can and aim for three portions a day – one portion equals a glass of milk, a small piece of cheese or a mini tub of yoghurt.

Learn more about how calcium affects your health

Broccoli

If you're following a dairy-free diet, you can get all the calcium you need from an adequate intake of leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, fortified soya products and fortified bread or cereal.

Among the leafy greens, broccoli is particularly bone-friendly. While nowhere near as calcium-rich as dairy products, broccoli is a fairly decent source – a generous portion provides around a seventh of the recommended daily intake (RDI).  Broccoli is also a good source of vitamin K and sulforaphane, which help maintain the density of the bones.

Find all our delicious broccoli recipes in one place

Sardines

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium. Many people in the UK are deficient in the so-called sunshine vitamin and as a result, the NHS recommends adults take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg) to top up flagging levels –  as always, be sure to double-check with your GP before taking any supplement.

You can also boost your vitamin D levels by eating eggs, red meat, vitamin D mushrooms and oily fish such as sardines. Sardines are especially beneficial. On top of vitamin D, they're a rich source of calcium – sardines are eaten with the bones, after all – as well as bone-boosting minerals like phosphorus and zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids that help dampen down joint inflammation.

How to boost your levels of vitamin D

Creamy sardines on toast

Sardines stuffed with spinach, pine nuts and raisins

Almonds

Like vitamin D, magnesium helps the body absorb calcium. Experts estimate up to 15% of people in the UK lack sufficient levels of magnesium in their diet, so it's important you get an adequate intake if you're keen to maintain robust bone health.

Along with fish, dark leafy greens, seeds and wholegrains, almonds are an excellent source of magnesium – a handful of these moreish nuts provides around half the RDI of the mineral, plus they contain calcium and phosphorus. Almonds are a decent source of boron, too, a mineral that promotes bone density.

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Red peppers

Several studies have linked an adequate intake of carotenoid antioxidants such as lycopene with good bone health. This potent antioxidant appears to have a protective effect on the bones, helping to prevent loss of density.

Excellent sources of lycopene include tomatoes, watermelons and red peppers. Red peppers may have the edge however in terms of bone health. In addition to lycopene, they're jam-packed with vitamin C, which is essential for preserving bone density and according to research, may help prevent bone loss in older men.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.