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Best Way to Build Bones

To get enough calcium, look to your plate.

By Molly M. Ginty

plate of food

Doctors have long recommended taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to keep bones healthy as you age. But earlier this year, a panel of medical experts reviewed 135 studies and found that standard supplementation (1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D) did not help healthy women stave off bone fractures. What's more, it may have increased their risk of kidney stones.

You can get the nutrients you need for maintaining strong bones by eating a well-balanced diet, says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian in Boston and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Be sure to fill your plate with foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D, both of which are essential for maintaining bone density.

If you have osteoporosis, are over 65, or are vitamin D deficient, the panel recommended that you should keep taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. So talk with your doctor before making any changes to your supplement regime.

Food for Bones

To maintain strong bones, eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, plus those high in vitamin D (which helps you absorb calcium). Dairy products are known for being high in calcium, but many nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and fruits (even oranges!), contain small to moderate amounts of it, too. So include these food groups on your plate, advises Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian.


1,000 mg for adults under 50; 1,200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70

Dairy products, such as yogurt, low-fat: 448 mg/cup
Canned sardines, with bones: 184 mg/4 sardines
Tofu, firm: 180 mg/3.5 ounces
Beans, such as cooked navy beans: 126 mg/cup
Dark, leafy greens such as kale: 100 mg/cup
Whole almonds: 75 mg/ounce

Vitamin D

600 IU for most adults; 800 IU for those over 70

Sockeye salmon: 447 IU/3-ounce serving
Sardines: 164 IU/3-ounce serving
Whole eggs: 41 IU/egg
Shiitake mushrooms: 41 IU/cup


Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that mushrooms boost levels of vitamin D, which is important not just for bone health but also for supporting the immune system and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Mushrooms are the richest nonanimal food source of vitamin D2, the naturally occurring form of the nutrient (see chart at left for other sources). Morel, chanterelle, and maitake varieties contain the highest levels of vitamin D, while shiitake and oyster mushrooms have moderate amounts. White buttons, criminis, and portabellas fall lowest on the nutritional scale, although many growers are now exposing them to UV light, which can increase vitamin D to 2,000 IU, the amount found in some fortified foods and supplements.

September 2013

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