June 17, 2019
We tend to think of our bones as being inanimate and something we can’t really influence, but in fact our skeleton is very much a living part of us. Bone cells are busy throughout our lives manufacturing new bone, and this process, although most evident in childhood and our teenage years, continues to be vitally important throughout the rest of our lives.
These are a rich source of calcium. Three portions a day should be enough to meet an adult’s daily requirement of 700mg calcium. Portions include:
- 1 glass (200ml) milk, either full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed
- 250ml calcium-fortified soya milk
- 40g hard cheese, such as Cheddar, Brie, feta or mozzarella
- 125g soft cheese, such as cottage cheese or fromage frais
- 1 small pot (150g) yoghurt, ideally plain or fruit
- smoothie made with 200ml milk or 150g yoghurt
You could start your day with an antioxidant-packed smoothie or Greek yoghurt topped with fresh or stewed fruit and a scattering of nuts and seeds. For lunch, how about an omelette filled with spinach and soft cheese? Snack on a glass of milk or soya milk and a handful of nuts to give you a balanced dose of carbohydrate and protein, or enjoy a glass of warm milk before bed to help you sleep. For dinner, you could enjoy a nourishing dish of pasta topped with calcium-rich kale and fresh ricotta.
Vitamins and minerals
Our bones need magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin D for strength and structure.
Magnesium is found in citrus fruits, green vegetables, nuts and seeds, bread, fish, meat, dairy produce, dried fruits (particularly figs and raisins), tomatoes, garlic, carrots, potatoes, aubergines, onions and sweetcorn.
The recommended daily intake is 270mg for women and 300mg for men, which is equivalent to 66g of Brazil nuts or 100g of pine nuts. This is an awful lot to incorporate into your diet, so a combined supplement of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D could work if you have low bone density, strong risk factors for osteoporosis, or you don’t eat much dairy.
Vitamin K is found in bio yoghurt, egg yolks, fish oils, dairy produce and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium. It is mainly manufactured by the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. If you’re over 65 and can’t absorb enough vitamin D from the sun, you need to take 10mcg daily. If you suspect that your vitamin D status may be low or you have low bone density, discuss taking a supplement before you reach this age with your doctor. Vitamin D is also found in sardines, herrings, salmon, tuna, dairy produce and eggs.
Unless you’ve been advised that you need supplements to support your bone health, wonderful food that’s naturally packed with vitamins and minerals will always have the edge over pills in my book. Cook up a vegetable-packed frittata with a crisp salad on the side. Create a compote of dried fruit to spoon on to porridge and rich Greek yoghurt. Make a ratatouille with red peppers, aubergine, onion and courgettes. Or try a spicy Shakshuka topped with crumbles of feta cheese.
Dairy-free eating for strong bones
Dairy produce is high in calcium but you don’t need to eat a diet full of milk, cheese and cream to ensure strong bones and prevent or improve osteoporosis symptoms. If you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk protein, you’re vegan, or you just don’t like dairy foods, then you’ll need other options to provide your body with easily absorbed calcium.
If you eat fish
Tuck into fresh and tinned sardines, anchovies and other small fish where you can eat the soft, calcium-rich bones. Try a tin of sardines in tomato sauce mashed on to toast and quickly flashed under the grill, or a platter of raw (or steamed, if you have difficulty chewing or swallowing) vegetables to dip into a tempting bagna cauda sauce made with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. If dipping is a bit tricky, you can drizzle the bagna cauda over your vegetables instead and eat with a fork.
Green, leafy vegetables are surprisingly high in calcium, so a side dish of steamed kale or cabbage, drizzled in olive oil, a salad of watercress and rocket, or a comforting bubble and squeak, will all provide essential nutrients.
Soya and calcium
Soya products, such as soya milk, soya mince and tofu all contain calcium, although I’d advise not eating them if you have been diagnosed with an oestrogen-dependent type of breast cancer, as the link between soya and tumour growth is still being investigated. Find out more in Frequently Asked Questions on Food and Cancer.
Nuts, seeds and fruit
Almonds, sesame seeds and dried fruits, particularly apricots, are packed with calcium. Try snacking on roasted nuts and seeds, or enjoy tahini (made from sesame seeds) as a spread on crackers or whizzed up with chickpeas to make hummus.
Nut milks, such as almond and cashew milk, make a delicious alternative to cow’s milk and other dairy products – try them whizzed into smoothies, pancakes and puddings. The downside is that they tend to contain more fat than their dairy equivalents, and fewer vitamins and minerals. Check the label and top up your levels of bone-boosting calcium and vitamin D, by also including plenty of the other foods suggested here in your diet.