As we get older, our bone density naturally declines, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones and makes them more prone to fractures and breaks. While doing regular weight-bearing exercise and getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help to prevent osteoporosis, research suggests that eating certain foods may improve bone health.
See also: How to cut your risk of osteoporosis
See also: How diet affects arthritis
1. Olive oil
Mediterranean countries enjoy a low incidence of osteoporosis – and it seems that olive oil could be the reason why. Researchers from Madrid University looked at the bone health and diets of people over a two-year period and found that those who consumed a diet high in olive oil had higher levels of the protein osteocalcin, a marker of strong bones. One theory is that osteocalcin may help prevent insulin resistance, which has also been linked to weaker bones.
You know that oily fish can help to keep your brain and heart healthy, but it seems that eating a diet high in fish can lower your risk of osteoporosis too. Researchers in China studied nearly 700 postmenopausal women and found that those who ate the most fish had a 75% lower risk of osteoporosis than those who ate the least. Not only that, they had a 7% higher bone density and 9% greater bone mineral content.
Eating onions could help improve bone density and lower your risk of a hip fracture, say researchers from Medical University of South Carolina. Scientists analysed the bone density of women aged over 50 who ate onions daily – compared to women who rarely ate them (less than once a month).
They found that regular onion eaters had 5% greater bone density. In addition, older women who consumed onions most frequently were 20% less likely to have a hip fracture compared to those who never ate them. The magic ingredient appears to be the compound GPCS, which is believed to slow the removal of old tissue, making bones denser and stronger.
Prunes aren't just good for keeping you regular, they could also help to keep your bones healthy. Researchers at Florida State University studied the bone density of more than 200 postmenopausal women over a year-long period. They found that women who ate 100g (3½oz) of the fruit each day had significantly increased bone density of the spine at the end of the study. More research is required, but experts think that prunes may contain a compound that improves bone turnover.
Whether it's black, green, white, or oolong, tea is widely recognised as a superfood. There is compelling research to show that tea reduces the risk of heart disease, and may even help prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease. And there's another good reason to enjoy a cup of the good stuff - drinking tea could help to reduce your risk of hip fracture.
Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in China found that men who drank the most tea had a 48% lower risk of a hip fracture than those who drank the least. Experts believe that the flavonoids (a kind of antioxidant) in tea helps to maintain bone density.
If you enjoy a drink, you might want to swap your usual tipple for a glass of beer. Researchers in Spain analysed the bone density of women who drank beer and those who preferred wine – and found that the beer drinkers had better bone health. Beer contains compounds called phytoestrogens which mimic some of the actions of the hormone oestrogen, which could account for its beneficial effect.
7. Butternut squash and carrots
If you want to help protect your bones, load your plate with orange and yellow-coloured vegetables. Researchers at the National University of Singapore studied the diets of people aged 45 to 74 and their incidence of bone fracture over a decade. They found that those who ate lots of fruit and vegetables had up to a 39% lower risk of hip fractures. Experts believe that the antioxidant compounds which give fruit and vegetables their yellow/orange colour may be responsible.