11 Foods 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 maintaing healthy, strong bones is important -- and that's an understatement!

The NIH estimates you reach peak bone mass around your early to mid-30s. 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 in bone health 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, 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. The rest of your body sort of uses your bones as calcium bank. Vitamin D is found in fortified foods; your body also produces it when your skin is in the sun. Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone growth, and also helps your muscles, nerves, and immune system.

Adults up to age 50 should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 200 international units (IUs) of vitamin D a day. Adults over 50 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 600 IU of vitamin D, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

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 have always wondered: Is milk really good for your bones?

It's true: dairy products can be excellent sources of calcium. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines:

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

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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 proteins and vegetables rich in bone-healthy nutrients. Or consider these dairy alternatives. (Or both!)

  • 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk has 301 milligrams of calcium
  • 8 ounces of plain soy yogurt has 300 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk has 442 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of rice milk has 283 milligrams of calcium
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Sardines, salmon, and tuna

These three fish can load you up with both calcium and vitamin D (and lots of protein, too) so you can maintain healthy bones.

  • Sardines get a bad reputation, but just 3.75 ounces of canned sardines has 351 milligrams of calcium and 178 international units (IU) of vitamin D. You can enjoy sardines straight from the can, on a pizza, or mixed in a pasta or salad dish. You can also have 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. A 3-ounce serving of salmon has just 12.8 milligrams of calcium but a whopping 447 international units of vitamin D. Salmon is also famous for its omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to your body's eye and brain health, as well as your energy levels.
  • Tuna dishes are diner staples (tuna melt, anyone?), and for good reason. One can of tuna packs 22.2 milligrams of calcium and 460 international units of vitamin D.
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Egg yolks

For awhile 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 can provide 21.9 milligrams of calcium and 37.1 international units of vitamin D. Plus, if you eat the egg white, too, you'll get about 6.3 grams of protein from one large egg.

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Leafy vegetables like collard greens, bok choy, and kale

Turns out, Popeye was right to gulp so much spinach. Some don't realize that leafy greens like--collard, kale, mustard, spinach, and bok choy--can be loaded with calcium and therefore help your bone and muscle health. For example:

  • 1 cup of cooked collard greens has 268 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked spinach has 245 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked bok choy has 185 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked kale has 177 milligrams of calcium
  • 1 cup of cooked mustard greens has 165 milligrams of calcium
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Like humans, mushrooms can create vitamin D when they are in the sun (so the next time you see a batch of wild mushrooms, you can think of them as sunbathing). In fact, a 2018 review of mushrooms as a source of vitamin D reported 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. Potassium can prevent calcium loss, and magnesium can maintain bone integrity.

Just one large sweet potato can have 1,100 milligrams of potassium and 63.4 milligrams of magnesium.

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Fortified cereal

Most grains do not contain calcium, but since cereal is such a breakfast staple, calcium-fortified options exist to help you keep your bones healthy. You can eat this cereal 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 milligrams of calcium. This is over your daily recommended need. This may seem fantastic, but your body isn't able to absorb that much calcium 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 now have calcium-fortified options so you can keep your bones healthy. In fact, 1 cup of fortified 100% grapefruit juice has 350 milligrams of calcium and 1 cup of fortified 100% orange juice has 349 milligrams of calcium.

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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 now find tofu prepared with calcium sulfate. The amount of calcium varies depending on the brand, so check your food label, but a .25 block of tofu with calcium sulfate can have as much as 421 milligrams of calcium.

One cup of cooked soybeans, also known as edamame, has 175 milligrams of calcium. These make a great snack or appetizer with an added bonus of healthy bones.

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