How to Keep Your Bones Healthy Part 1 – Smart Dieting

bone health diet

Calcium – the major bone mineral and is found in low-fat dairy foods like milk!

What occurs more frequently each year than heart attack, stroke, breast cancer or prostate cancer combined? The answer may shock you – bone fractures due to osteoporosis. In fact, 1 in 10 adults over age 50 have osteoporosis. And it’s not just women. Twenty percent of bone fractures occur in men. Your weight and weight loss can affect your risk of osteoporosis. Why? Because people who weight more generally have higher bone density, which protects against bone fractures. When we lose weight, we often lower our bone density, thereby increasing our risk of osteoporosis. But before you start packing on the pounds, keep in mind that obese individuals are also at higher risk of falling, which somewhat negates the benefit of having higher bone mass. Being overweight also increases your risk of diabetes. Studies have shown that diabetics sustain more fractures than non-diabetics, regardless of weight.

Sounds like a lose-lose situation, right? Not necessarily. There are things you can do to retain bone mass as you lose weight, leaving you leaner, stronger and healthier.

Diet Smart for Bone Health

Sure, you can lose weight on a 1,200-calorie Twinkie or cereal diet. But no fad diet or vitamin supplement in the world is going to give you what you’re missing from real food. So diet smart with foods that provide maximum nutrition for fewer calories. Here are the key nutrients you need and where you’ll find them:

  • Calcium. It’s the major bone mineral and is found in low-fat dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese as well as non-dairy foods such as sardines, tofu, almonds, figs, kale, beans, calcium-fortified breads, cereals and milk alternatives. Calcium is best absorbed when distributed throughout the day.
  • Vitamin D. A nutrient that goes hand-in-hand with calcium yet many of us don’t get enough of it. It’s found in fluid milk, where it helps us absorb calcium. Note that vitamin D is not part of all dairy products or milk alternatives so make sure to check food labels on yogurts, cheese or soy milk. Other sources of vitamin D include salmon, some mushrooms, eggs and fortified foods like cereals.
  • Protein. This is essential to bone health. Contrary to popular belief, science has repeatedly shown that higher protein intake helps the body retain calcium, build bones and maintain muscle, all of which protect against fractures. Many high protein foods like low-fat dairy, fish, chicken, beef and beans deliver trace elements such as zinc, copper and magnesium, which are also essential to bone structure.
  • Fruit and vegetables. Eating fruits and veggies correlates with higher bone mass because the variety of nutritional compounds found in plant-based foods promote strong bones. For example, vitamin K in green leafy vegetables is necessary for bone quality. Inulin, a dietary fiber in onions and leeks may enhance calcium absorption. These are just two examples from a list of suspected bone-protecting phytonutrients, which also includes phytosterols, lignans, catechins and flavonoids. The best way to get these protective compounds is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

If there is one key word to remember when it comes to bone health it’s variety. Calcium is an important part of the equation, but optimal bone health requires a variety of compounds found in nutrient-dense, whole foods. These types of foods are the foundation of the Zestar Diet Pilot program, which is easy to follow and will help ensure you’re getting the right nutritional mix for your bones and body!

Bone health is a strong professional and personal interest of mine. Check back for my next blog on how exercise can help with bone health. I’d be excited to hear your comments or questions below.


Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD, is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in human nutrition, foods, and exercise. She’s worked with academia, government and industry and has several published research studies. She recently started her own practice as independent nutrition consultant for businesses and individuals. You can e-mail Jeannemarie at jbeiseigel@gmail.com. Read Jeannemarie's full bio.

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