“Bone up” on these nutrients for bone health, plus lower osteoporosis risk

  • 3 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Did you know good bone health requires more nutrients than just calcium? Learn what stronger bones require and how to lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Nutrients for bone health

Your bones support you; support your bone health with the right nutrients

We rely on our bones as a literal framework of our health. Our under-appreciated skeleton helps keep us upright, protects our organs, allows movement, and serves as a storehouse of essential minerals.

Osteoporosis can develop when bone mass decreases in density or volume, leading to a greater risk of bone fractures. Osteopenia refers to bone loss that occurs before osteoporosis.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, higher risks are affected by gender, age, family history, certain medications, and being underweight, among others. While not all of the above factors are within your control, you can take steps with your diet and lifestyle to lower your osteoporosis risk.

Do you get enough of these key nutrients for bone health?


About 90% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones and teeth, providing strength and structure.

Top calcium sources include dairy products, sardines or salmon with bones, calcium-treated tofu, calcium-fortified beverages, and Chinese or napa cabbage. If you take a calcium supplement, focus on filling in the gaps between your calcium needs and intake. Calcium intake beyond your needs does not result in stronger bones.

How much do I need?

RDA for calcium

Age Male Female
19-50 1000mg 1000mg
51-70 1000mg 1200mg
71+ 1200mg 1200mg

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for normal calcium absorption and for healthy bones and teeth. Your skin also produces this "sunshine vitamin" after exposure to sunlight.

Food sources include liver, fish, mushrooms exposed to UV light, and fortified foods and beverages (e.g., cow’s milk and soy drinks). Many people have difficulty obtaining enough vitamin D from diet or sunlight exposure and rely on supplements.

How much do I need?

RDA for vitamin D

Age Males and Females
19-70 50mcg (600IU)
71+ 20mcg (800IU)


Protein is an essential building block of muscle and bone. Among people with adequate calcium intake, those with higher protein intake tend to have higher bone mineral density. Protein intake is also associated with higher bone density, slower rate of bone loss, and reduced risk of hip fracture.

Rich protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

How much do I need?

The RDA for protein is 0.8 g per kg body weight, although some experts recommend higher than this to support bone health, especially for older adults.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for proper blood clotting and supports bone health by helping make the proteins required for bone metabolism.

Rich food sources include dark green, leafy vegetables (e.g., kale and spinach), concentrated herbs (e.g., basil pesto), and cabbage. Note: You may need to control Vitamin K intake if you take certain blood thinners.

How much do I need?

Adequate Intake (AI)* for vitamin K

Age Male Female
19+ 120mcg 90mcg

*There is no RDA for vitamin K, given insufficient data.


Magnesium helps the body use calcium and vitamin D and is an important component of our bones.

Rich food sources include nuts and seeds, fish and shellfish, and dark green, leafy vegetables.

How much do I need?

RDA for magnesium

Age Male Female
19-30 400mg 310mg
31-50 420mg 320mg
51+ 420mg 320mg


After calcium, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is a major building block of bone.

Many foods contain phosphorus, but meat, oysters, milk, cheese, soy products, chocolate, nuts, seeds, and dried beans/peas are particularly rich sources. It’s not difficult to get enough phosphorus in your diet. Most Americans consume more than the recommended amounts of phosphorus.

How much do I need?

RDA for phosphorus

Age Males and Females
19+ 700mg

Activities create good stress for the bones

Weight-bearing activities such as walking, hiking, stair-climbing, and racquet sports put stress on the bones, slowing bone loss and may even help bones grow stronger. Likewise, strength training exercises, whether using body weight, hand weights, or resistance machines, support bone health. Balance exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi can help reduce fall risk and resulting fractures.

Additional dietary factors

There is more to bone health than the above nutrients. Here's yet one more reason to eat more produce–fruit and vegetable consumption offers a protective effect on the bones, perhaps by lowering the body's acid levels or reducing inflammation.

When taken in excess, caffeine, sodium, and alcohol may worsen bone health. Although you need adequate vitamin A for bone health, overconsumption of dietary supplements may negatively affect bone health.

Be proactive in lowering osteoporosis risk

After identifying any personal risk factors, consider how you can keep your bones strong.

Nourish yourself with foods that provide a range of nutrients to support your bones and overall health. Tracking your intake with MyNetDiary can ensure that you are meeting your needs.

Include weight-bearing activities in your exercise program. If you are at high risk for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about screening and treatment options.

Related content

Do you need a strength training program for weight loss? Here’s what our dietitians recommend

Here are the best ways to get enough calcium for strong bones and more

The many roles of vitamin D in our body

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Other Health Issues->Bone Health
Jul 5, 2024
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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