A healthy, balanced diet plays a key role in maintaining bone health. In addition to regular exercise, eating the right foods can help strengthen the bones and reduce inflammation, lowering the risk of fractures and easing the symptoms of conditions like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Here are nine of the best foods to include in your diet.
See also: Best and worst foods for your joints
Sardines are a great source of calcium - the most important nutrient for bone health - and also contain vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. In addition, the oily fish contains bone-strengthening minerals including phosphorus and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids which helps to lessen joint inflammation.
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.
2. Low-fat dairy products
Eating more dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, is one of the easiest ways to get more calcium in your diet. One cup of milk has about 30 percent of the calcium you need. Choose low-fat dairy products and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, to help avoid weight gain. Aim to eat three portions a day – one portion equates to a glass of milk, a small chunk of cheese or a small pot of yoghurt.
3. Leafy greens
If you're lactose intolerant or vegan, you can get the calcium you need by eating dark, leafy green vegetables, such as kale, watercress, and collard greens - along with nuts, fortified soya products, beans, and fortified bread or cereal. Leafy greens are high in magnesium, which helps maintain bone density, and vitamin K, needed for bone metabolism. Because spinach contains oxalic acid, which makes the body less able to absorb calcium, it's best avoided if you're concerned about bone health.
Broccoli is another good vegetable to eat. As well as containing calcium, it's also a rich source of vitamin K and sulforaphane, which help maintain bone density and is good for healthy joints.
Almonds are an excellent source of magnesium, which, like vitamin D, helps the body absorb calcium. In fact, almonds contain the highest amount of calcium per serving of any nut. Not only that, almonds contain phosphorus and boron, which is known to promote bone density. You can up your intake by eating almond butter – which is lower in fat and higher in protein than peanut butter.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant which has been shown to have a protective effect on the bones. Other good sources of lycopene include watermelons and red peppers.
7. Olive oil
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.
Eating onions could help improve bone density, according to 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). Regular onion eaters had 5% greater bone density. Not only that, older women who consumed onions most frequently were 20% less likely to have a hip fracture compared to those who never ate them.
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.