Essential nutrients for building better bones

We’ve all seen those ads in magazines where celebrities (often athletes) with painted-on milk moustaches promote milk’s value for bone health — a terrific marketing tactic, but sadly lacking when explaining how proper nutrition and proper bone health go hand in hand. What those ads don’t say — and what many people just don’t realize — is that healthy bones are an impossible dream without a balanced intake of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fatty acids, and other important nutrients. Obtaining that intake requires a great deal more than just milk! Particularly since, despite America’s wealth as a nation, most of us do not consume food that contains adequate amounts of many essential nutrients.

Hard to believe? In a 1981 USDA survey that studied the three-day food intake of 21,500 people, not a single person surveyed consumed 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of all 10 essential nutrients studied. Substantial numbers of people consumed less than 70% of the RDA for several nutrients — and that was before fast food restaurants became ubiquitous!

The average American diet is not only nutritionally inadequate, it is also imbalanced. On any given day, 50% of us eat no fruit, and 25% of us eat no vegetables. At the same time, Americans consume approximately 20% of their calories from refined sugars and sweeteners, 30% from refined grains, and often, 40% as fat. Additionally, many people consume 10% of calories from alcohol. What this all boils down to is frightening. Our bodies are depending on a small percentage of our caloric intake to provide us with all the essential nutrients we need to build and maintain strong and healthy bones. Our country’s standard diet of fast food, fatty food, and food that is very acidifying is literally robbing our bones of the nutrients they need to remain strong and healthy.

This constant imbalance of nutrient deficiency and excess can present significant problems for maintaining bone health. The chemistry of the human body operates best in an alkaline state, with a pH of about 7.4. The body’s pH level is so critical, it has many checks and balances to make sure it stays in line. If a diet is too high in acid-forming foods, the body reacts by drawing alkalinizing mineral compounds from bones to buffer this acidity and alkalize the body. While our bones do not suffer from an occasional withdrawal of their alkalizing mineral reserves, excessive and prolonged acidity can drain bone of alkali mineral reserves and lead to bone thinning.

Eating for better bones

When it comes to bone health, there’s a single goal: to maximize the intake of nutrient-dense, bone-building whole foods and minimize the intake of substances that make the body more acid. Sound simple? Maybe, but in today’s fast-paced society, following this “simple” recipe is difficult at best, and it was likely much easier for our ancestors than it is for us. Living off the land and sea provided our ancestors with a variety of nutrient-rich, whole foods that could be harvested directly and dried, steamed, or preserved in other ways for use in winter. Even more recent generations of our ancestors — our grandparents — could not have located, much less purchased and consumed, much of the unwholesome foods that line today’s supermarket shelves. Of the 25,000 products typically available in an American supermarket, only a fraction of them are actually nutritious, whole foods. Many of the offerings are not only highly processed, but also largely synthetic. So for us, the challenge is to dodge all the clever marketing strategies designed to attract us to packages and find the good foods hidden among the junk.

If bone health is your goal, here’s a simple way to start: change what you put on your plate at mealtimes. First, eat meals composed largely of fresh fruits and vegetables, organically grown whenever possible, that have undergone very little processing before they come to your plate. It’s okay if you include some processed foods, but try to make your diet mostly fresh, whole foods. Second, make sure you are choosing foods that promote your body’s acid/alkaline balance — which is easy if you follow the first suggestion, as most of the alkalizing foods you can obtain are fresh fruits and vegetables! Third, when you shop in a grocery store, stick to the outer aisles — the produce section and the areas where fresh meats and fish are sold. The highly processed foods you want to avoid are in the center aisles, so skip those. And finally, take a high-quality multivitamin that provides all of the nutrients you need as “insurance,” especially if you find yourself unable to always eat healthy foods.

You can find many more suggestions for improving your bone health using nutrition and diet in the articles listed below:

Our most popular resources on nutrition & bone health

  • calciumThe calcium myth
    Nutrition for healthy bones requires much more than just calcium. explains the importance of 20 key nutrients for bone health.
  • rocks20 essential bone-building nutrients — an overview
    For many years, calcium was viewed as the all-important nutrient for bone health. Every day we are learning more about the many other minerals, vitamins, and macronutrients that are crucial for healthy bones. Join us as we pick our top 20 bone-building nutrients, touch on how they work in the body, and review how much you really need to keep your bones strong across a lifetime.
  • coupleTen steps to better digestion
    Key steps on strengthening digestion for stronger bones. Ten steps to better nutrition and bone health from Better Bones.


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