This morning I wrote about a new study linking extra weight to poor bone quality in young women. So as not to dwell on the negative, let’s move on to ways to boost bone health—without adding any more dairy to the diet.
Calcium is still an important component of keeping bones healthy, of course, but it’s not a magic bullet. Scientists now know that other nutrients—like vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and the protein osteocalcin—also play a role in preventing low bone density and osteoporosis as we age.
Non-dairy foods such as almonds, olive oil, spinach, bananas and lentils all help promote bone health (not to mention healthy weight) because they’re high in one or more of these nutrients—and many also contain calcium. For a complete bone health strategy, try adding more of the following to your daily diet.
1. Olive Oil. A 2012 Spanish study found a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra olive oil was good for increasing osteocalcin, a protein in the body that’s been linked to higher bone mineral density.
2. Almonds. These nuts are a surprisingly good source of calcium—a one ounce serving contains about 80 milligrams calcium, or nearly a quarter of your recommended daily calcium intake (300-400 milligrams). Almonds are also high in magnesium, another mineral liked to strong bones.
3. Seafood (or sunshine): Vitamin D helps the body better absorb calcium, making it an indirect bone-health booster. The human body can produce the vitamin D it needs from sunshine, but getting enough can be tough. To add vitamin D via diet, eat more fatty, oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna. Mushrooms are also a good source.
4. Potassium-rich foods. Potassium may neutralize acids that suck calcium out of the body. For more potassium, get ye some baked potatoes, raisins, lima beans, spinach and, yes, bananas.
5. Beans, peas and lentils. Legumes are a good source of folic acid or folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce homocysteine levels. “Homocysteine is an inflammatory protein that, if elevated in the blood, is a proven independent risk factor for osteoporosis as well as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and strokes,” according to naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, author of The Hormone Diet. Foods high in folate and other B vitamins can help counteract this inflammatory protein, however. For a hefty dose, stock up on letils (90% of your recommended daily folate value in one serving), pinto beans (74%), garbanzo beans (71%), black beans (64%), navy beans (64%) and kidney beans (57%). Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) and avocado are also good folate sources.
6. Leafy greens. Leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard not only contain a good amount of calcium, they also are rich in osteocalcin, the protein linked to lower risk of bone fractures and good overall bone density. Adults should aim for 90 to 120 micrograms of osteocalcin per day, and just one cup of raw kale or spinach will get you there (or past it—kale contains 547 micrograms per cup!). And they’re also high in folic acid, which can decrease homocysteine levels.