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Foods that help strengthen your bones

Tuesday - 6/3/2014, 6:12am  ET

It's not just milk and cheese. A variety of foods are packed with calcium and vitamin D -- two nutrients needed for healthy bones. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON -- A common effect of aging is the loss of bone mass. This happens when the body reabsorbs calcium and phosphate from the bones, instead of keeping the minerals in the bones, the National Institutes of Health reports.

The loss of bone mass puts many at risk for osteoporosis, a disease of weak, porous bones that's responsible for more than 8.9 million fractures annually, the International Osteoporosis Foundation reports.

But you can take some preventative measures to strengthen your bones and ward off your risk of osteoporosis -- and eating the right foods tops that list.

Calcium and vitamin D are two of the most important nutrients for bone health. The two work together to build and maintain strong bones. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, calcium is a major building block of bone tissue; vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium.

There are plenty of tasty, easily accessible foods that are packed with both calcium and vitamin D:

Milk and Milk Alternatives

Having a glass of low-fat milk, or fortified soy or almond milk, is a great way to get calcium each day.

If you don't like drinking milk, you can incorporate it into your diet without gulping it straight from the glass. Try Food and Wine's recipe for almond milk and chia-seed pudding. You can also mix dairy, soy or almond milk in a smoothie, such as this almond-banana smoothie from Epicurious.


Yogurt is lower in lactose than dairy milk (for those who are sensitive to lactose), and it's a great source for calcium for breakfast or a snack.

Similar to milk, yogurt does not always have to be consumed the conventional way.

Add a bit of crunch to a cup of yogurt with some granola, high-fiber cereal or chopped nuts and a drizzle of honey. Throw yogurt in your smoothies, or try it as a substitute for sour cream on tacos and in dips, such as an artichoke dip or this Tuscan vegetable dip.

Dark, Leafy Greens

It's often a surprise to many that dairy is not the only source of calcium. Dark, leafy greens are another food rich in the essential nutrient.

In addition to tossing kale in cold salads, the popular vegetable can also be baked into crunchy kale chips and mixed into soups, such as this Tuscan white bean and kale soup.

Of course, there are other leafy greens out there. WebMD lists collards, turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, broccoli and red and green leaf lettuce on its top 10 list of nutritious greens.

The Food Network's Anne Burrell takes the guesswork out of mustard greens with her recipe for sautéed mustard greens, and Swiss chard gets taken to the next level when The Sprouted Kitchen's Sara Forte puts it in a Gruyere grilled cheese sandwich.


Now you have the best excuse to call your local pizzeria and place an order for a traditional Neapolitan pizza -- just make sure that pie is topped with sardines, because the canned fish are one of the best sources of calcium.

You can treat canned sardines like you would canned tuna -- mixed with a little mayo and mustard. You can even mash the sardines with avocado for a creamy, salty snack.

If those ideas are too "sardine-forward," incorporate sardines into other staple dishes. Try this James Beard recipe for sardine and potato salad or toss them with spaghetti, dill and fried capers.


Speaking of seafood, salmon is packed with vitamin D -- the nutrient your body needs to absorb calcium.

Now's the time of year to take advantage of the grilling weather: Grill up salmon fillets or fire off some salmon burgers. And get creative: Salmon doesn't have to be limited to the dinner plate. Try a smoked salmon dip as a snack or appetizer, or combine salmon with spinach and cheddar in an omelet.

Salmon, as well as nuts and seeds, are also high in omega-3 fats. New research from the University of Maryland shows that omega-3 fatty acids may help increase the levels of calcium in the body.


In addition to leafy greens and milk alternatives, there's another food that's packed with calcium and is vegan- and vegetarian-friendly: tofu.

One-half cup of tofu contains 434 mg of calcium, according to the USDA. And it can be incorporated in everything -- from breakfast burritos to salads, burgers, a stir fry and more.

Watch the Salt

When the body excretes salt through urine, it takes calcium with it. To avoid losing calcium, try to limit the amount of processed foods consumed; choose whole foods whenever possible.

WTOP Wellness Contributor Kait Fortunato and WTOP's Rachel Nania contributed to this report.

Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates and serves on the board for the DC Metro Area Dietetic Association. Kait focuses on individualizing her recommendations to have each client see results and live a healthier, more productive life, and she works to help people enjoy food and eat the foods they love. Kait lives in the D.C. area and loves trying new restaurants and activities around the city. Visit Kait's blog, Rebel Dietitian, and tweet her @Rebel_Dietitian for recipes, nutrition tips and activities in the Washington area.

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