11 Foods To Eat for Healthy Bones

These foods (dairy and nondairy) are rich in calcium and vitamin D so you can grow and maintain healthy, strong bones.

Growing and maintaining healthy, strong bones is important— and that's an understatement!

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates you reach peak bone mass around age 30. That sounds a little scary, but the good news is you can play a major role in your bone health and either slow down or prevent osteoporosis. Exercise and physical activity, plus a diet full of calcium and vitamin D, can be effective ways to keep bones healthy from childhood through adulthood.

If you develop osteoporosis, a disease characterized by brittle and breaking bones, getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D may slow the disease and prevent fractures.

The NIH recommends kids and teens get an hour of physical activity daily, while adults need about two hours and 30 minutes each week. Ideally, you would mix in weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, hiking, dancing, jump-roping, and team sports; strength training exercise like lifting free weights, using weight machines, or body-weight regimens; and non-weight-bearing exercises like cycling and swimming. You may also like yoga, pilates, or tai chi to improve flexibility, core strength, and balance.

When it comes to building strong bones, there are two key nutrients you need: calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is a mineral that supports your bone and teeth structure and hardness. About 98% of your body's calcium is stored in your bones, according to the NIH. The rest of your body sort of uses your bones as a calcium bank. Vitamin D is found in fortified foods, and your body produces it when your skin is in the sun. Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone growth, according to the NIH, and helps your muscles, nerves, and immune system.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends adults up to age 50 get 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. Adults over 50 years should get 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D, and adults over 70 years should aim for 1,200 mg of calcium 800 IU of vitamin D.

You can meet your calcium and vitamin D requirements by trying these 11 foods for healthy bones.

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Dairy Products Like Milk and Yogurt

Growing up, you probably had at least one adult tell you, "Milk is good for your bones." At one point in time, it was impossible to turn on the TV or open a magazine and not see a "Got Milk" ad. But you may be wondering: Is milk really good for my bones?

It's true: Dairy products can be excellent sources of calcium to help make bones strong. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA):

  • 1 cup of 1% milk has 305 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of skim milk has 298 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of buttermilk has 284 mg of calcium
  • 8 ounces of low or nonfat plain yogurt has 448-488 mg of calcium
  • 8 ounces of non- or low fat plain Greek yogurt has 250-261 mgof calcium

Milk and yogurt are the richest sources of naturally occurring calcium, so choosing them regularly makes it easier to reach the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D each day.

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Cheese

You may be happy to know cheese can be a calcium source, but each kind of cheese packs a different punch, so let's break it down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates:

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Dairy Alternatives

Maybe you don't eat or drink dairy products. You may be lactose intolerant or choose not to consume animal products. Don't fret. You can still find many ways to get calcium and vitamin D.

Read on to learn which dairy alternatives, proteins and vegetables provide nutrients that make bones stronger. The DGA reports:

  • 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk has 301 mg of calcium
  • 8 ounces of plain soy yogurt has 300 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk has 442 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of rice milk has 283 mg of calcium

The calcium and vitamin D content will vary from one brand to another, so it's a good idea to check the food label on the package you buy.

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Sardines, Salmon, and Tuna

These three types of fish can load you up with both calcium and vitamin D (and lots of protein) to help you maintain healthy bones.

  • Sardines sometimes get a bad reputation, but just 3.75 ounces of canned sardines has 351 mg of calcium and 178 IU of vitamin D, according to the USDA. You can enjoy sardines straight from the can, on a pizza, or mixed in a pasta or salad dish. You can also try them on crackers with mustard.
  • Salmon often gets coined a "superfood" because it boasts numerous health benefits, one of which is keeping your bones healthy. According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of salmon has just 13 mg of calcium but a whopping 447 IU of vitamin D. Salmon is also famous for its omega-3 fatty acids, which the NIH notes are essential for heart, eye and brain health, as well as maintaining your energy level.
  • Tuna dishes are inexpensive dinner staples (tuna melt or casserole, anyone?) and for good reason. One can of tuna provides 26 mg of calcium and 67 IU of vitamin D, according to the USDA. Although lower in vitamin D than sardines and salmon, tuna is still a healthy source of vitamin D to include in your diet.
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Egg Yolks

For a while it was trendy to bash the egg yolk, but we're here to tell you it can help your bone health.

Just one large egg yolk provides 22 mg of calcium and 37 IU of vitamin D, according to the USDA. Plus, if you eat the egg white too, you'll get about 6 grams of protein from each large egg.

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Dark Leafy Vegetables

Turns out Popeye was right about gulping so much spinach. Some people don't realize that dark leafy vegetables — kale, mustard and collard greens, spinach, and bok choy — can be loaded with calcium to support your bone health. The DGA reports:

  • 1 cup of cooked kale has 177 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked mustard greens has 165 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked collard greens has 268 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked spinach has 245 mg of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked bok choy has 185 mg of calcium
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Mushrooms

Like humans, mushrooms can create vitamin D when they're in the sun (so the next time you see a batch of wild mushrooms, you can think of them as sunbathing). In fact, a review of mushrooms as a source of vitamin D, published in Nutrients in 2018, found that if eaten before the "best-before" date, mushrooms can provide higher levels of vitamin D2 than most foods. This means mushrooms may be the only non-animal, unfortified source of vitamin D.

A downside? Most commercially sold mushrooms are grown in darkness and therefore boast little vitamin D2. And the CDC warns you should not eat wild mushrooms unless an expert has identified them as safe.

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Sweet Potatoes

Vitamin D and calcium are most important for bone health, but other nutrients certainly play a role. A study published in February 2020 in Nutrition Research and Practice noted that potassium can prevent calcium loss. Plus, a review published in August 2013 in Nutrients noted that magnesium can maintain bone integrity.

Just one large sweet potato has 1,100 mg of potassium and 63 mg of magnesium, according to the USDA. Many of the foods that provide calcium and vitamin D also provide potassium, magnesium or both, including spinach, edamame, salmon, tuna, soymilk and milk and yogurt. What a nice bonus!

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Fortified Cereals

Most grains do not contain calcium naturally, the NIH explains, but since cereal is such a breakfast staple, calcium-fortified options exist to help you keep your bones healthy. You can eat these cereals dry, add it to your dessert, or of course, add it to your choice of milk for some additional calcium.

A 50-gram serving (slightly more than the recommended adult portion) of General Mills Total Crunch Whole Wheat Flakes has 1,665 mg of calcium, according to the USDA. This amount of calcium is well over your daily recommended need, which may seem fantastic, but the NIH points out that your body can't absorb that much calcium at one time, so you may want to consider spreading out your calcium-dense foods throughout the day.

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Fortified Grapefruit and Orange Juice

Similar to cereals, grapefruit and orange juices have calcium-fortified options so you can keep your bones healthy. In fact, 1 cup of fortified 100% grapefruit juice has 350 mg of calcium, according to the DGA, and 1 cup of calcium-fortified 100% orange juice has 349 mg of calcium, according to the USDA.

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Tofu (With Calcium Sulfate) and Edamame

If you're vegan or just love tofu (it's delicious, after all), you can find tofu prepared with calcium sulfate. According to the USDA, 100 grams of tofu with calcium sulfate (about 1/2 cup cubed) can have as much as 345 mg of calcium.The amount of calcium can vary depending on the brand, so it's a good idea to check your food label.

Soybeans, also known as edamame, make a great snack or appetizer with an added bonus of helping your bones. The USDA reports just one cup of cooked soybeans has 175 mg of calcium. Adding edamame to your soups and salads is a great way to boost the calcium and protein you get.

Summary:

Calcium and vitamin D are key nutrients for keeping bones strong and healthy throughout your life. Choosing these 11 foods regularly is good for your bones and body. Sometimes a supplement is also needed to get enough calcium and vitamin D. If you're unsure if you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D, talk with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian.

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