Eating for Bone Health

For years we’ve all heard “drink your milk for strong bones” and most doctors ask us if we get our 3 servings of dairy daily.  Well most recent research has shown us it’s not just calcium that’s important, and that we certainly don’t need to rely on dairy for good bone health.


Calcium is essential for bone. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 1,000 to 1,200 mg a day. There is no known advantage to getting more than the recommended amounts, either for those trying to prevent bone loss or those who already have osteoporosis.  In fact, there appears to be a risk of kidney stones if you take supplements to go beyond the 1,200 mg.  Additionally, taking in too much calcium can lead to hypercalcemia, high levels of calcium in the blood, that may cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, and other neurological symptoms.

In order to reach the recommended 1,000-1,200mg daily allowance you should focus mainly on foods.  Supplementing more than 500mg daily is usually unnecessary.  Dairy isn’t the only way to get calcium, many plant and seafood sources have just as much calcium as a glass of milk.

Produce  Serving Size Estimated Calcium*
Collard greens, frozen 8 oz 360 mg
Broccoli rabe 8 oz 200 mg
Kale, frozen 8 oz 180 mg
Soy Beans, green, boiled 8 oz 175 mg
Bok Choy, cooked, boiled 8 oz 160 mg
Figs, dried 2 figs 65 mg
Broccoli, fresh, cooked 8 oz 60 mg
Oranges 1 whole 55 mg
Seafood Serving Size Estimated Calcium*
Sardines, canned with bones 3 oz 325 mg
Salmon, canned with bones 3 oz 180 mg
Shrimp, canned 3 oz 125 mg
Fortified Food Serving Size Estimated Calcium*
Almond milk, rice milk or soy milk, fortified 8 oz 300 mg
Orange juice and other fruit juices, fortified 8 oz 300 mg
Tofu, prepared with calcium 4 oz 205 mg
Waffle, frozen, fortified 2 pieces 200 mg
Oatmeal, fortified 1 packet 140 mg
English muffin, fortified 1 muffin 100 mg
Cereal, fortified 8 oz 100-1,000 mg

Source: National Osteoporosis Foundation

Vitamin D is required to absorb the calcium in your diet.  Without adequate vitamin D, you can’t absorb the calcium you need for your bones. However, research is still being done to figure out how much vitamin D you need to properly absorb calcium.vitamindsupplement

Some studies have shown that getting adequate vitamin D increases bone density and the more dense your bones are the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis.  Additional studies have shown that getting at least 600-800IU daily may prevent fractures.

There is much disagreement on how much vitamin D one should take daily to maintain good levels. The Vitamin D Council has outlined the various recommendations.


Recommended daily intakes from various organizations:
Vitamin D Council Endocrine Society Food and Nutrition Board
Infants 1,000 IU/day 400-1,000 IU/day 400 IU/day
Children 1,000 IU/day per 25lbs of body weight 600-1,000 IU/day 600 IU/day
Adults 5,000 IU/day 1,500-2,000 IU/day 600 IU/day, 800 IU/day for seniors

(The Food and Nutrition Board recommended daily intakes are the official recommendations by the United States government.)

Upper limits set by various organizations:
Vitamin D Council Endocrine Society Food and Nutrition Board
Infants 2,000 IU/day 2,000 IU/day 1,000-1,500 IU/day
Children 2,000 IU/day per 25lbs of body weight 4,000 IU/day 2,500-3,000 IU/day
Adults 10,000 IU/day 10,000 IU/day 4,000 IU/day

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning excess can be stored in the body. The Vitamin D Council recommends taking no more than the upper limit, meaning do not take anymore than 10,000 IU/day for adults.

For more on vitamin D, check out my post here.

Although calcium and vitamin D are the most important nutrients involved in bone health, vitamin K and magnesium also play key roles in maintaining bone health.  Stayed tune for upcoming posts on these 2 nutrients.