Eating for Your Bones

Eating for Your Bones

Article Featured on US News | By Lisa Esposito

SKELETONS IN A SCIENCE classroom are dangling structures of solid rods, disks and plates – simple building materials. But the living bones supporting your body are much more dynamic. “People think bone is some kind of inert substance,” says Dr. Michael Greger, founder of “But, actually, we’re remodeling our bone all the time. It’s a living, breathing organ that bleeds.” As your body continually breaks down and replenishes bone, you should feed it well.

Calcium from cow’s milk for strong bones has long been the conventional dietary wisdom. “When people think of calcium-rich foods, they think of dairy products,” says Carrie Dennett, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist. “But it’s good to look beyond these obvious sources.”

Eating canned sardines and canned salmon – as long as they still have their bones – is good for your bones, Dennett says. Dark, leafy green vegetables and other types of produce, including collard greens, broccoli rabe, turnip greens and kale, also promote bone health, she says. In addition to their antioxidant properties, fruits and vegetables contain nutrients like potassium, which help conserve calcium in the body.

“Not a big prune fan? Well, your bones like them,” Greger says. An evidence review published in the April 2017 issue of the journal Nutrients concluded that dried plums, e.g., prunes, guard against bone loss in women after menopause. That’s important because of older women’s increased risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures as their bone mineral density decreases. Prunes help maintain bone-building cells called osteoblasts, Greger explains.

Almonds, on the other hand, help suppress osteoclasts, cells that break down bone tissue, according to a study from the University of Toronto published in the journal Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, in July 2011.

“Soy is one food that’s been put to the test and found to significantly improve bone function,” Greger says. In a comparison study, menopausal women who were randomly assigned to consume two glasses of soy milk daily showed increased bone mass after two years, he says. However, women in the control group, who received hormonal replacement treatment via skin patches, lost significant bone density in that time.

“You do see lower bone fracture rates in women who eat more soy,” Greger says. He recommends whole soy foods like edamame or tempeh, a traditional soy product from Indonesia.

Along with bone mass, older adults worry about losing muscle, Dennett points out. “We want to stay strong and stay healthy,” she says. “We need to keep our muscle for that.” Protein, which is essential for muscle health, has gotten a bad rap because of the lingering myth that it leaches calcium from the bones. “That’s not necessarily true,” she says. “Somebody would have to be getting excessive amounts. But getting an adequate amount of protein is good for both muscle and bone.” Balanced diets include healthy sources of lean protein.

The acid-alkaline diet– based on the premise of helping your body control its pH through diet –is often touted as beneficial for bone health, but it’s not, Dennett says. The reality is our body has other mechanisms for regulating acid-base balance in the body, including our rate of breathing,” she says. “So we don’t need to eat an ‘alkaline’ diet to prevent the body from pulling minerals from our bones to maintain blood pH.”

Bones need vitamins as well as minerals like calcium. Dark-green leafy vegetables are a good source of vitamin K, which promotes healthy bones, Greger says. However, he adds, avoid veggies such as spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard, because they contain substances called oxalates, which can bind up calcium. Low-oxalate vegetables (such as cabbage and cucumbers) are probably the most absorbable whole-food source of calcium – more so than cow’s milk, he adds.

Vitamin D plays an important role. One sign of vitamin D deficiency is softening of the bones, which is a precursor to osteoporosis, Dennett says. “Vitamin D is pretty much the only supplement I almost universally recommend to my patients,” she adds. “Most of us don’t get enough vitamin D from diet … and if we’re doing our due diligence by protecting our skin from the sun, then we’re probably not making enough natural vitamin D.”

To create a truly bone-friendly meal, try this, Greger suggests: “Trail mix: prunes and nuts, or maybe a nut-stuffed prune. Washed down with soy milk and then maybe with some dark-green leafy vegetables for dessert.”

As appealing as that may or may not sound, you could also turn to any of several top-ranked diets to boost your bone health. Plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean, Flexitarian and Ornish diets will meet all your leafy-green needs. Balanced eating plans including the DASH, MIND and Mayo Clinic diets provide plenty of healthy sources for all the fruits and veggies, fish, soy products, minerals and vitamins you require to keep bones strong.

Best Plant-Based Diets

#1Mediterranean Diet
#2The Flexitarian Diet
#3Ornish Diet
#4Vegetarian Diet
#5The Traditional Asian Diet
#6Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet
#7Nutritarian Diet
#8The Engine 2 Diet
#9Vegan Diet
#10Eco-Atkins Diet

DIET Ranking information as of January 3rd, 2018

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