As anyone who was told to drink their milk growing up knows, calcium and strong bones practically go hand-in-hand. And though this mineral does your bones plenty of good (after all, our bones are literally built out of calcium!), it isn’t the only nutrient needed for bone health. Here are five other major players.
1. Vitamin D
Load up on all the calcium you want, but without ample vitamin D, that calcium can’t do much for your bones. Why? Our bones need vitamin D in order to absorb and utilize calcium.
Plus, “Vitamin D also helps the body keep calcium and phosphate in the blood at ideal levels for bone mineralization,” says dietitian Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. The sunshine vitamin is crucial in preventing bone-softening and, along with calcium, osteoporosis, she adds.
Adults need about 600 IU (or 15 micrograms) of vitamin D per day. If you don’t get enough sun exposure to meet your D needs (Dudash recommends two 20-minute sessions of midday full-body exposure per week), you can find it in UV-treated mushrooms, eggs, and seafood like salmon or tuna, as well as daily supplements.
The ultimate multitasker, magnesium supports hundreds of processes in the body, so it’s no surprise it plays a role in bone health. In fact, researchers have linked low magnesium intake with risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. One 2013 paper published in Nutrients even concluded that magnesium deficiency directly contributes to osteoporosis.
“Magnesium is an essential mineral for all living cells, including those involved in bone formation,” says dietitian Emily Wunder, M.S.C.N., R.D., L.D.N. “Magnesium also supports vitamin D, which then supports calcium.”
The average adult needs between 320 and 420 milligrams of magnesium (which you can find in nuts, seeds, spinach, beans, and even dark chocolate) per day. Magnesium supplements can be found in capsules, powders, and even gummies.
Essential in all tissue development and maintenance, the mineral phosphorous also impacts overall bone health, Wunder explains. The second most abundant mineral in our bodies, most of our phosphorus resides in our bones and teeth.
It’s not just important for your workouts!
“In observational studies, potassium-rich diets have been associated with high bone density,” Dudash says. The theory: Potassium has an alkalizing effect, meaning it helps balance acidity throughout the body. Otherwise, our body might leech calcium from our bones to balance that acidity, sacrificing bones’ strength in the process.
Aside from bananas, you can find potassium in potatoes, apricots, avocados, citrus fruits, and legumes. Adults need 2,600 to 3,400 milligrams a day.
5. Vitamin K
An often-overlooked nutrient, vitamin K—specifically the form vitamin K2—helps create proteins that help bind calcium to bones and supports bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. Research published in Nutrition in Clinical Practice links higher K levels with healthy bone mineral density and decreased fracture list.
Eating For Healthy Bones
“Eating a well-rounded diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado ensures you take in the array of vitamins and minerals needed to support bone health,” Wonder says. If you’re concerned your diet falls short of bone-boosting vitamins and minerals, talk with your doctor about supplementation.