You really are what you eat. The vitamins and nutrients you get in your food are the key forces in helping to fight against aging, strengthen bones, protect joints, and keep your body working in tip-top shape for years to come.
What foods should you consume if you want to protect against bone damage and intensify joint health?
Calcium is a necessary mineral that our bodies use for bone construction. Our bodies continuously replace old calcium with new calcium to keep our bones strong and durable. If you aren’t getting enough calcium in your diet, your body can’t do this ongoing reconstruction process. These aging bones get brittle and weak, leading to osteoporosis and fractures.
Calcium is especially important for kids and teens with growing bones. The more calcium you take in as a child, the more “calcium stores” you have for the rest of your life.
Your mother said it to you when you were a kid: drink your milk, so you can grow up big and strong. And there’s truth to that!
Low-fat or non-fat dairy products provide some of the most bio-available forms of calcium and vitamin D. This includes milk, yogurt, and cheeses. You’ll especially want to look for dairy products that are fortified with vitamin D, which can give you an extra boost for super strong bones.
Nevertheless, dairy has recently become a hot-button topic in the health world. Research shows that certain types of dairy can actually do more harm than good. In most cases, though, the problem isn’t the milk or cheese itself. The problem comes from the hormones that are fed to the cows that then provide our dairy.
You can get your calcium and vitamin D while avoiding the harmful hormones by purchasing certified organic milk from grass-fed cows.
If you’re lactose intolerant, soymilk and almond milk also contain calcium (although in lower quantities). Keep your soy intake to a minimum, though, because it may interrupt your hormone balance (which impacts bone health).
Figs contain small amounts of calcium. They’re a great supplement to your regular calcium intake, especially if you don’t eat dairy. They also contain potassium and magnesium, which we’ll discuss more below. Dried figs are a delicious and nutritious bone-happy snack to munch on.
Most nuts, especially almonds and almond butter, contain calcium. They are also filled with essential fatty acids, which are “essential” to your body’s optimal functioning.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so you have more available for this bone remodeling process. A deficiency in vitamin D can put you at risk for osteoporosis, arthritis, and bone fractures. Children who lack vitamin D can develop rickets, which causes bone weakness and skeletal deformities.
Unlike other vitamins, our bodies don’t produce vitamin D on its own. That means you need to intake vitamin D through your diet in order to have enough to stay healthy.
Vitamin D is hard to come by in everyday food sources, but it’s in high concentrations in certain types of fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. Sardines and salmon also have high levels of calcium.
Tip: Try to purchase wild-caught fish. This helps you avoid any hormones or chemicals that may have found their way into farm-grown fish.
Vitamin C is known for its immune-boosting properties. But did you know it’s also a necessary vitamin for bone development? Vitamin C is actually one of the main building blocks of collagen, which is the fibrous protein that builds the connective tissue of bone and cartilage. Some studies have even suggested that vitamin C intake can help speed up the healing of fractures and joint tears.
Vitamin C also enhances the body’s absorption of calcium and vitamin D. Without vitamin C, the body can’t properly store and use other vitamins. Low levels of vitamin C often means that you’ll have low levels of calcium and vitamin D, which is detrimental to bone health.
Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are chock full of vitamin C. This high amount of vitamin C provides loads of collagen, which makes them the ultimate anti-aging solution. Consuming citrus can help build connective tissue and bone proteins, while also improving skin health, boosting immunity, and detoxing your organs.
Some studies also suggest that citrus also has an impact on bone health because it contains hesperidin, which is a bioflavonoid. Often called “vitamin P,” hesperidin acts as an antioxidant that may further help to inhibit bone loss.
Hint: Some orange juices are fortified with vitamin D. Look for organic, fortified OJ in your health food store.
Red and green bell peppers are also a great source of vitamin C. Add them to your salads or throw them on the grill for a delicious collagen boost.
Vitamin K is most known for its impact on blood and clotting, but it also plays a significant role in bone metabolism. Studies show that vitamin K can increase bone mineral density, especially when combined with vitamin D. Vitamin K may also affect the body’s calcium balance, allowing your body to use more of the calcium that you intake.
You’ll find the most vitamin K in dark, leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and spinach. Vitamin K is also found in high amounts in Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. Not only do these veggies promote bone health, but they’re also chock full of nutrients that can help prevent disease and cell aging. Go for the greens to stay young, active, and vital!
Magnesium & potassium
Magnesium and potassium are also important for bone health. A magnesium deficiency can lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which can then lead to a calcium deficiency.
Potassium helps neutralize acid in the body. Acidity actually “eats” at the calcium in your bones. Removing this acidity helps to keep the bones intact.
Sweet potatoes are rich in both magnesium and potassium. Bake them and sprinkle cinnamon on top for a healthy and delicious side dish.
Spinach, quinoa, whole wheat, and nuts are also high in magnesium. Bananas, oranges, apricots, and dates have a lot of potassium.
Isoflavones are a flavonoid contained in soy products like tofu and edamame. Some studies suggest that isoflavones can help fight off bone disease because of their link to calcium absorption. Even if you can’t have dairy, you can get isoflavones (which helps absorb calcium) in your soy milk—which can make calcium supplements more effective.
What NOT to eat
- Saturated Fats
Saturated fats, like fatty meats, create a high level of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is a chemical that decreases bone mass and increases risk for osteoporosis.
Some dairy is considered a saturated fat, which is why it’s best to choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
Some experts believe that heavy soda consumption is linked to lower bone density. This is likely because cola contains phosphoric acid, which can “eat away” at the alkalizing calcium compounds in our bones. It also contains caffeine, which might increase the body’s excretion of old calcium at a faster rate than you can intake new calcium.
- Salty foods
Foods that contain a lot of sodium can also cause your body to lose calcium. Studies show a link between sodium excretion and calcium excretion. The more salt you consume, the more it grabs on to your body’s calcium—and together they leave the body. Keep your salty food intake to a minimum to keep your calcium levels high.
Food is the foundation for bone and joint health. A few minor diet changes—adding bone-happy foods and avoiding harmful ones—can keep your bone structure strong and vital for years to come.
How do you add these foods to your bone-healthy diet? Give us your tips, tricks, and recipes in the comments below!