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11 superfoods to build healthy bones naturally

By Dr. Susan E. Brown, PhD

I always look forward to new research that delves into different ways to use foods to strengthen bones. It’s fascinating how foods can literally be a make or break factor in the body’s ability to replenish important bone-building nutrients and provide other compounds that protect and nurture our bones.

A plate of foods to strengthen bones.

Remember, our bodies are capable of building bone strength if we give them the consistent support they need. The first step in using food to build stronger bone is to follow an alkaline diet. Next, you want to fill that alkaline diet with a rich array of true “super foods” for bone.

The following choices can be translated into an array of tasty meals and snacks that support bone health.

Table of contents
  1. Blueberries may help prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women
  2. Tomatoes reduce bone-damaging oxidative stress
  3. Prunes help build spinal bone density
  4. Onions support healthy bone density
  5. Broccoli contains high levels of both calcium and Vitamin K
  6. Wild caught salmon provides Vitamin D for stronger bones
  7. Nuts provide magnesium and phosphorus to help strengthen bones
  8. Pumpkin seeds are alkalizing and rich in fracture-lowing omega-3 fats
  9. Ginger calms inflammatory cytokines that weaken bone
  10. Natto is an excellent source of Vitamin K2 for bone
  11. Yogurt lowers risk for osteoporosis
  12. Health benefits of black pepper for bone
  13. Foods to strengthen bones — the possibilities are endless

Blueberries may help prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women

Blueberries to prevent bone loss in women.

When it comes to foods to strengthen bones, blueberries are a sweet treat for bone health, especially during and after menopause. Using animal models designed to represent menopausal osteoporosis, researchers found that when animals were given blueberries, the blueberry “treatment” was able to prevent the loss of bone mineral density throughout the whole body. Those who were not given blueberries suffered a 6% loss of bone density throughout their bodies.

What’s most interesting to me is that researchers report the mechanism by which blueberries prevent bone loss is different than other fruits studied. Blueberries appear to reduce bone breakdown (resorption) rather than by increasing bone formation as prunes do, for example. Try sprinkling blueberries on top of yogurt for a bone-friendly breakfast, add blueberries to smoothies or simply eat them plain by the handful!

Tomatoes reduce bone-damaging oxidative stress

Tomatoes reduce bone damaging oxidative stress.

It has long been noted that people who consume more tomatoes, tomato paste, sauces, juice and tomato products of all sorts experience a lower fracture rate than those who consume less. The reason why? Researchers believe that it’s due to the high lycopene content in tomatoes. Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps to protect bone from the effects of oxidative damage.

To get the most out of lycopene’s benefits, aim to get 12 to 30 milligrams a day. How do you do this  without taking extra supplements? It’s really quite easy if you like tomatoes as I do. Bright red tomatoes — in sauces, soup, juices or just plain sliced up on the plate — are loaded with lycopene. Oh, and if you don’t like tomatoes, enjoy watermelon, papaya, grapefruit — also good sources of lycopene.

An infographic about tomato foods to strengthen bones

Finally, I hear this question a lot, “But aren’t tomatoes acid-forming?” True, tomatoes are slightly acid-forming, but among foods to strengthen bones, the benefits of tomatoes outweigh any small acid contribution, which can be easily buffered with other alkaline foods you eat.

Prunes help build spinal bone density

Prunes are one of many foods to strengthen bones.

Among foods to strengthen bones, prunes (dried plums) deserve special recognition. Prunes contain a profile of nutrients that may benefit bone mineral density by enhancing bone formation and slowing bone loss, especially in women identified as having osteopenia. In one of the main studies on prunes and bone formation, researchers ran a 6-month trial comprising 48 women who were identified as having osteopenia. In this group, 16 participants ate 6 prunes daily, 16 others ate 9-10 prunes, and the remaining 16 was a control group and ate dried apples instead.

In the apple-eating control group, BMD stayed unchanged or decreased. But in both groups of women who ate prunes, spine bone density increased, while forearm and hip BMD remained the same. Those who ate 9-10 prunes had a slightly greater increase in vertebral BMD than the 6 daily prunes group, but the difference between the two groups wasn’t significant.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the lower prune intake — 6 prunes — was adequate for most women to get the dried fruit’s benefits.

Onions support healthy bone density

Foods to strengthen bones include onions

Several recent studies have shown onions are a top crop when it comes to supporting bone density.

For example, one study showed that a group of women 50 years or older who ate onions every day had a 5% greater overall bone density than those who ate onions once a month or less. And — older women who consume onions most frequently may decrease their risk of hip fracture by more than 20% versus those who never consume onions! What’s the secret? Onions are high in quercetin, which appears to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Here’s a tip to get the most out of your onions: Many of the phytonutrients in onions are found in the outer layers, so try not to peel off extra layers when you remove the onion skin.

Broccoli contains high levels of both calcium and Vitamin K

Foods to strengthen bones include broccoli and broccoli rabe.

Broccoli is a bone superfood chock full of so many key nutrients for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis. Along with calcium and Vitamin K, broccoli is also full of other nutrients like magnesium, zinc and phosphorous.

Not a broccoli fan? Don’t remove it from your list of foods to strengthen bones! Instead, try broccoli rabe, a brassica family cousin of broccoli. The nutrient content is virtually the same, but broccoli rabe’s florets are much smaller than those of broccoli and its stems are more slender, making it easier and more enjoyable for some broccoli naysayers to eat.

Wild caught salmon provides Vitamin D for stronger bones

You can get Vitamin D from sunshine and supplementation, and the sea! Fatty fish like wild caught salmon and tuna are a good food source for Vitamin D, the fat soluble vitamin that plays a key role in bone growth and remodeling. Specifically, one of the things it does is it helps the gut absorb calcium. Nearly 50 percent of adults in the U.S. are deficient in Vitamin D, largely because of lack of direct sunlight for a large chunk of the year and our indoor lifestyles.

Wild caught salmon is among the best food sources of Vitamin D. An average 3.5-ounce serving provides 988 IU of Vitamin D! Even a small, 3.25-ounce can of salmon contains about 600 IU of Vitamin D.

Nuts provide magnesium and phosphorus to help strengthen bones

Nuts provide magnesium and phosphorus and are foods to strengthen bones.

Nuts are rich in the essential bone-building minerals magnesium and phosphorus. Magnesium is needed to help the body absorb and retain calcium in the bones. Phosphorus is a key mineral for bone strength — almost 85 percent of the phosphorus in your body can be found in your bones and teeth.

Almonds are a good source for magnesium and phosphorous. Other nut varieties that deliver these bone-building minerals include walnuts, peanuts and pecans.

Pumpkin seeds are alkalizing and rich in fracture-lowering omega-3 fats

Pupkin seeds are alkalizing and rich in omega-3s to lower fracture risk.

Following an alkaline diet to improve your body’s internal pH balance? Make it a habit to eat pumpkin and pumpkin seeds — not just in the fall, but year round. The flesh of pumpkin itself is very nutrient-dense, containing substantial amounts of important bone-building minerals such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Pumpkin seeds are high in plant-based omega-3 fat (alpha linolenic acid), which the body converts into the more essential omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fats are highly anti-inflammatory and women with higher blood levels of these precious fats have been shown to have lower rates of hip fracture.

Ginger calms inflammatory cytokines that weaken bone

Ginger in anti-inflammatory which helps bone health.

Ginger root contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce pain, swelling and tissue damage. Unwanted inflammatory cytokines weaken bone and contribute to arthritis. Ginger also enhances digestion, allowing your body to better absorb important bone-building nutrients in the foods you eat. (Strong digestion and assimilation is key to optimum bone health.)

Ginger also aids the body through its alkalizing actions and by its contribution to the production of glutathione, our most important inner-cellular antioxidant.

Natto is an excellent source of Vitamin K2 for bone

Natto is a source of vitamin k for bone health.

Natto is a form of fermented soybean and an excellent source of the MK-7 form of Vitamin K2, which is so important for bone health and our cardiovascular health too. Natto is a common food in Japan and other Asian countries. It’s sticky, stringy texture isn’t for everyone! Alternatives for Vitamin K2 include gouda cheese and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and seaweed.

Yogurt lowers risk for osteoporosis

yogurt lowers risk for osteoporosis.

In a large Irish study of almost 2,000 women and men, one serving of yogurt daily was linked to a substantially lower risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. The bone-strengthening effect of yogurt was not seen in people who drank milk or ate cheese — it was the yogurt, specifically, not just any dairy product. This supports the suggestion that yogurt’s bone-building punch lies in its contribution of probiotics to our all-important gut microbiome.

Now this doesn’t mean eating multiple servings of yogurt daily will eliminate your risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis. But it does support the idea that nutrient-dense foods, like a low-sugar, high-probiotic yogurt, benefit bone by delivering calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium and beneficial pro-biotic bacteria.

Health benefits of black pepper for bone

The key nutrients for bone health won’t do you much good if they can’t get from your food into your system — and this is where something as simple as sprinkling a little pepper on your supper can offer you surprising nutritional benefits.

Piperine, a natural compound found in pepper, appears to increase the body’s ability to absorb and use many important bone-supporting nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, E and K; the B vitamins; minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium (among others); and various amino acids. Without piperine, these nutrients are at greater risk of being destroyed in the gut or poorly absorbed. Piperine also contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are protective for bone.

Foods to strengthen bones — the possibilities are endless

After reading through this mouthwatering list, who wants to figure out what’s for dinner? I’m thinking wild caught salmon dusted with black pepper and broiled with a sprinkling of crushed pumpkin seeds served with a tangy yogurt dill sauce, a side of sautéed broccoli rabe topped with minced onion, and maybe a cup of ginger tea and fresh blueberries with unsweetened whipped cream for dessert.

Now that’s a meal that is delicious and good for your bones! Pair nutritious alkalizing foods with exercise and quality supplementation and you’re on your way to stronger bones for life.

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References: Foods to strengthen bones
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Mackinnon, ES et al., Supplementation with the Antioxidant Lycopene Significantly Decreases Oxidative Stress Parameters In The Bone Resorption Marker N-telopeptide  Of Type I Collagen In Postmenopausal Women.  Osteoporosis international (2011) 22:1091-1101

Chandra, Satyesh and Anita Pakrashi, Ginger: A Versatile Healing Herb, Vedams ebooks (P), Ltd. Jan 1, 2003; Grzanna, R. Et al.2005, Ginger—an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. J Med Foods. Summer; 8(2):125-32.

Arjmandi, B. H., D. A. Khalil, E. A. Lucas, A. Georgis, B. J. Stoecker, C. Hardin, M. E. Payton, and R. A. Wild. 2002. Dried plums improve indices of bone formation in postmenopausal women. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine 11(1):61–68.

Bu, S. Y., E. A. Lucas, M. Franklin, D. Marlow, D. J. Brackett, E. A. Boldrin, L. Devareddy, B. H. Arjmandi, and B. J. Smith. 2007. Comparison of dried plum supplementation and intermittent PTH in restoring bone in osteopenic orchidectomized rats. Osteoporosis International 18(7):931–942.

Matheson, E.M. The association between onion consumption and bone density in perimenopausal and postmenopausal non-Hispanic white women 50 years and older (2009) Menopause, 16(4):756-9.

Huang T.-H., Muhlbauer R.C., Tang C.-H., Chen H.-I., Chang G.-L., Huang Y.-W., Lai Y.-T., Yang R.-S. Onion decreases the ovariectomy-induced osteopenia in young adult rats (2008) Bone, 42 (6), pp. 1154-1163.

Lambert, H, Frassetto, L et al.  the effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism—a meta-analysis. Osteoporosis International, published online 9 January 2015. DOI 10.1007/s00198-014-3006-9

Giannini, S, et al. Hypercalciuria is a common an important finding in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.  European Journal of Endocrinology, September 2003;149:209-213.

Goraya, N, Simoni, J, et al. Treatment of metabolic acidosis in patients with stage 3 chronic kidney disease with fruits and vegetables or oral bicarbonate reduces urine angiotensinogen and preserves glomerular filtration rate. Kidney Int 2014;1031-1038.

Last Updated: June 17, 2024
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