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Nutrition is Vital for Good Bone Health


Calcium and vitamin D are two essential building blocks for bone health. Not getting enough of either can wreak havoc on our overall well-being.

What does calcium do for our bones?

Our bodies are comprised of many different minerals, such as iron and magnesium, but the most abundant mineral in the body is calcium.

Our bones are partly made of calcium salts (mixtures of calcium with other minerals), especially calcium phosphate. Calcium phosphate hardens and strengthens bone.

Since our bodies cannot make calcium, we need to get it from foods and drinks to build strong bones and teeth and to keep them healthy. Healthy bones are less likely to break if we have a traumatic injury.

What happens to our bones without enough calcium?

Calcium does more than build strong bone. It also helps our muscles, heart, and nerves work properly.

If we do not get enough calcium in our diets, our bodies take the calcium we need from our bones. Over time, this process makes bones weaker and raises the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that renders our bones weak and brittle, and people with osteoporosis have a higher risk of fractures.

How much calcium do we need?

The amount of calcium each person needs depends on their age and sex. Here’s how much calcium people need every day to keep their bones strong and healthy.

Age Calcium per day
Babies age 0 to 6 months 200 milligrams (mg)
Babies age 6 to 12 months 260 mg
Children age 1 to 3 700 mg
Children age 4 to 8 1,000 mg
Preteens, teens, and young adults age 9 to 18 1,300 mg
Adults age 19 to 50 1,000 mg
Women older than age 50 and men older than 70 1,200 mg
Men age 51 to 70 1,000 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding teens 1,300 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding adults 1,000 mg

Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Which foods have calcium?

The best food sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt. Other food sources of calcium include:

  • Fish (such as salmon and tuna)
  • Leafy green vegetables (such as kale and turnip greens)
  • Tofu (set with calcium)
  • Small fish with bones (including sardines and canned salmon)

Some foods and drinks are fortified with calcium. A food is fortified when the manufacturer adds vitamins or minerals that the food does not naturally have. Examples of foods fortified with calcium are certain brands of juice, soymilk, oatmeal and breakfast cereal.

Some supplements contain calcium. Talk to your health care provider, such as the professionals at the Orthopedic Performance Institute, if you are considering whether or not to take a calcium supplement.

What does vitamin D do for our bones?

Vitamin D promotes bone health in these ways:

  • Helps absorb the calcium we get from food.
  • Along with calcium, helps protects older adults from osteoporosis.
  • Promotes healthy functioning of our muscles and immune system. We need strong muscles to maintain our balance and reduce the risk of falling and breaking bones.

What happens to our bones without enough vitamin D?

When children do not get enough vitamin D, they can develop rickets. With this condition, the bones become soft, weak, deformed and painful.

In adults, too little vitamin D over time can cause:

  • Osteomalacia, a painful condition that makes bones and muscles weak and more likely to bend and break.
  • Osteoporosis.

How much vitamin D do we need?

Age group Vitamin D per day
Babies younger than 1 year 10 micrograms (mcg), which is equivalent to 400 international units (IU)
Children and adults age 1 to 70 years 15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults older than age 70 20 mcg (800 IU)

Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

In the United States, most people do not consume enough vitamin D to meet recommended intakes. Some vitamin D can be made in the body with sun exposure but many people have low vitamin D status.

Which foods have vitamin D?

Not many foods have vitamin D. Some kinds of fish can provide some of the vitamin D we need each day. Examples are:

  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel

Most of the vitamin D that Americans get from food comes from fortified foods. Most milk and some yogurts in the United States are fortified with vitamin D, but most other dairy products do not have added vitamin D.

Other foods that may be fortified (check the label to be sure) include:

  • Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
  • Orange juice

Some supplements contain vitamin D. Again, consult your health care provider if you are considering taking a vitamin D supplement.

If you’re concerned about your bone strength, a bone density test can help alleviate your worries. Contact the Orthopedic Performance Institute in San Antonio at (210) 545-7171 for more information.

Medical information provided by the National Institutes of Health.


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