Eating for healthy bones

Keeping your bones strong is not just a goal for later years.

Healthy foods for healthy bones

Keeping your bones strong might seem like a goal for later years, when they’ve already become thinner and weaker. But bone health is actually something to consider much sooner.

We reach peak bone density at around the age of 30. After which bone loss speeds up once you reach midlife. For women, it increases dramatically around the time of menopause. This is due to the drop in the hormone oestrogen, which is linked to bone density.

The good news is there are simple ways to keep bones healthy at any age and help prevent osteoporosis (a chronic disease that basically results in weaker bones,making them prone to breaks and fractures).

Calcium is one of the foundations of strong bones. Your recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium changes as you go through life, with women and girls aiming for 1000–1300mg a day. Around three to four serves of dairy each day will help you reach this RDI. These amounts can be easily factored into your diet, even if you are trying to lose weight, as low-fat dairy products are also packed with calcium.

Jean Hailes' dietitian Anna Waldron says, “A calcium-rich breakfast is a fantastic way to start your day and get you well on your way with your calcium requirements. Have a generous amount of milk or yoghurt on your cereal or porridge, or have some yoghurt with cereal or fruit. Try making pancakes on the weekend and serve with some fruit and yoghurt on top.”

Many other foods also contain calcium (although in smaller amounts), such as soy milk or other alternative milks that have added calcium, canned sardines with their bones, tofu, almonds, spinach and chickpeas.

With a bit of imagination, you can transform a few ingredients into a tasty calcium-rich dish that works for the whole family. A simple lemon, raspberry and yoghurt pudding baked in a mug in the microwave, for instance, can take just a few minutes to prepare and can deliver more than 300mg of calcium. Or a kale, feta and pumpkin pie can give you around 445mg of daily calcium needs, while also delivering a tasty mix of vegetables.

What else do bones need to stay healthy?

Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed. Try to get at least 10 minutes of safe sun exposure each day to top up your levels. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, but salmon and other fatty fish, eggs and margarine provide some, though the amounts are low.

Regular weight bearing exercise also strengthens bones – aim for at least 30 minutes of activity such as walking or playing sport each day. Gentle weight lifting (resistance training) is also great for strengthening bones, increasing flexibility and reducing falls. 

If you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium or vitamin D, talk to your doctor. You might be able to take a supplement to help boost your levels.

Jean Hailes psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks says, “Whatever lifestyle changes you might make, for a change to be successful, it’s important that you make specific and achievable goals.”

Some calcium-rich recipes:  

Baked ricotta dessert from the Jean Hailes Kitchen

Dairy Australia’s One minute lemon, raspberry and yoghurt mug puddings

Dairy Australia’s Kale, feta and pumpkin pie

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health. 1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Young Simmo
    7th Sep 2015
    My Grandfather lived to 96 and smoked a pipe right up to the moment he passed away. He told me that strong healthy bones make a big difference when you get old. I asked him what is the best way to make your bones strong and healthy. He said that in his case it was all due to lots of beer and red wine. I have followed his advice so far to 75 years and will swim my way to 96.
    7th Sep 2015
    Good for you Simmo. You must be enjoying your healthy life.
    Young Simmo
    7th Sep 2015
    Yes Annamaria, there comes a time that you don't notice at the time,
    where you say to yourself, "Bugger the rest of the world, it is what is best for me and my Darling, that matters".
    So I have made a commitment to stop drinking booze, some time in the next 20 Minutes and 20 Years.
    I can't name an exact time.
    7th Sep 2015
    Dairy is acid which robs the bones of calcium. Western countries have the highest consumption of dairy products and the worst bones. Yoghurt is an exception.
    2nd Aug 2016
    Agree Annamaria, diary is a poor choice for calcium, low fat anything is deadly.
    7th Sep 2015
    Readers need to watch one of the SBS programs on SUGAR. I have seen a number of these and whilst this article is spot on it fails to mention the immense harm sugar appears to be doing. And this has been known for over half a century and, like the smoking and coal industries, the sugar industry has fended off any attempt to provide the facts to the public lest it loses money.
    Being a sugar addict myself I have started on a concerted effort to cut down dramatically. Perhaps the author of this article needs to look at issues which attack health (sugar....not fatty foods in isolation) as well as the healthy choices (fresh fruit and veges). Like all things in life 'moderation' is the secret. I'll drink to that!
    Young Simmo
    2nd Aug 2016
    He Mick, we finally agree on something. I have Peripheral Neuropathy which is caused by type 2 Diabetes and gives me burning stinging feet 24 / 7. Even strong Opioids like 40 My Oxy-Contin don't help with nerve pain. I have tried a few different meds but nothing helps with the pain in my feet. I have made a drastic reduction in my sugar intake, and I thought for a while it did help, but after a few weeks it was obvious that nothing helps.
    If anybody has had any success with this pain, please spread the word starting here.
    2nd Aug 2016
    And don't forget the vitamin K either.
    2nd Aug 2016
    And the D3.
    3rd Aug 2016
    Genes have BIG part to play in anyone's health.

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