When it comes to bone health, most people instantly think “calcium,” which is true, but it does not build and sustain our bones on its own. Vitamin D is often overlooked as a key player in bone health, but it improves calcium absorption and bone growth, too.
It is important to maintain a diet including not only enough of these two micronutrients, but enough energy consumption overall, because without enough energy, the body will pull from stores, including bones, for metabolic needs. Over time, this pull of nutrients from the bones can lead to bone loss, osteoporosis, and fractures. Females, especially athletes, are at higher risk for lack of energy and micronutrient consumption.
So how much is enough? Adults up to age 50 are recommended to get 1000 mg of calcium and 200 IU of vitamin D per day. Adults over 50 should aim for 1200 mg of calcium and 400-600 IU of vitamin D. Younger people who are still growing need higher amounts. For example, an 8-ounce glass of milk contains 300 mg of calcium.
These nutrients can be added to any meal of the day, so meeting these needs should not be a challenge. Even if you are lactose intolerant, there are many sources of vitamin D and calcium that are not dairy. Before we look at some go-to bone foods, let us beware of sodas—studies have shown that they can leach calcium from our bones.
Milk-Containing both calcium and vitamin D, especially in fortified kinds, it is an easy one to remember. Dairy-free varieties of milk can contain as much or more than cow’s milk. Add milk to cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, or drink it straight.
Yogurt– Calcium and vitamin D are also both found in yogurt and can be available in dairy-free options. This can be a snack, breakfast, dessert, used in chicken salad recipes, and smoothies.
Cheese– A few cubes or a couple slices can pack a lot of calcium in a smaller portion, but it lacks amounts of vitamin D. Toss crumbles into a salad, top pasta, layer in a sandwich, or have cottage cheese with fruit.
Sardines– While they may not sound appetizing, these little fish are packed with nutrients, including both calcium and vitamin D. Recipes with sardines include pastas, toasts, salads, and more.
Salmon– Known to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon also contains over 100% of the daily value for vitamin D.
Spinach and collard greens– These leafy greens both provide a dose of calcium in addition to many other vitamins.
Cereals– One of the easiest and quickest breakfasts (or dinners and snacks sometimes!), cereal, can provide a variety of nutrients, especially if it is a fortified cereal. Have it with milk or yogurt and get a lot of calcium and vitamin D in one bowl.
Tuna– This is another fish that contains vitamin D. Often found in to-go pouches, tuna can be a great addition to travel, work, or school lunches and snacks.
Orange juice– Though it doesn’t have calcium and vitamin D on its own, fortified juices abound, and they are a great way to get in nutrients while also swapping out soda (just be mindful of sugar).
To ensure bones that support you throughout life, the choices we make daily are key. It can be easy to overlook these things now, but it can be just as easy to be alert to our bodies’ needs and to incorporate these nutrients.