- Calcium is essential for healthy bones. The vast majority of the body's calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth, where it supports their structure, according to the NIH. The body also uses calcium stores to maintain normal biological functions. So if calcium intake or absorption is low, bone loss will occur. If bones lose enough calcium over time, osteopenia or osteoporosis can develop.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by porous and fragile bones. The NIH reports that it is a serious public health problem for more than 10 million adults in the U.S. The NIH adds that another 34 million Americans have osteopenia--a precursor to osteoporosis.
Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, are excellent sources of calcium. Broccoli is also rich in calcium. A number of foods are also fortified with calcium, including orange juice, tofu, and many breakfast cereals. Calcium is also sold as a dietary supplement, and is found in several medications, including antacids.
- Magnesium is also vital for bone health. Roughly half of the body's magnesium stores are found in bone. According to the NIH, evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency alters calcium metabolism and may contribute to osteoporosis. Studies also show that bone mineral density may improve with magnesium supplementation.
Spinach and other green vegetables are rich in magnesium. A number of legumes, such as green beans and nuts, as well as whole grains are also good sources of magnesium.
- Vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption. It enables the mineralization of bone and is needed for bone growth. The NIH warns that without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle or misshapen. Vitamin D helps prevent the softening of bones--a disorder known as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults. Long-term vitamin D deficiency also contributes to osteoporosis.
Vitamin D does not occur naturally in many foods. Cheese and egg yolks contain small amount of vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight is the most common way people obtain adequate amounts of vitamin D. Many Americans also use fortified foods as a source of vitamin D. For example, most milk sold in the U.S. is fortified with vitamin D. Other fortified foods include, cereals, orange juice, yogurt, and margarine. Many calcium supplements include vitamin D, as well.
- Potassium promotes bone health by preventing the excretion of calcium in urine, feces and sweat. Adding potassium to a high-sodium diet may also help preserve calcium and bone mass.
Apricots, raisins, figs, bananas, avocado, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, tuna and halibut are all potassium-rich foods.
- Research reveals that vitamin K plays a key role in bone health, according to the NIH. Studies show that vitamin K is critical for the production of osteocalcin--an essential calcium-binding protein in bone. Moreover, vitamin K may increase bone mineral density and prevent fractures due to bone loss.
Spinach, asparagus, broccoli, peas and carrots are all good sources of vitamin K.