In addition to exercise, what you eat may significantly influence your bones, for better or for worse. Maintaining good bone health is essential because without a sturdy skeletal system, you may run the risk of osteoporosis down the road. Four nutrients that are especially important for strong and healthy bones include calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and phosphorus.
Calcium is a nutrient commonly associated with bone health. It is a major component of your bones and teeth and helps to form their structure. This mineral has other roles in your body and helps your nerves and muscle, including your heart, to function properly. When your body needs calcium for these other roles, it will grab calcium from the food you eat. If you are not eating calcium-rich foods, it will take it from your bones. Therefore, it's important to eat a diet that contains adequate levels of this mineral. You may immediately think of milk and dairy products as being high sources of calcium, but other foods, such as leafy green vegetables, black-eyed peas and oranges, contain good amounts as well.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, too, promoting calcium absorption, bone growth and bone maintenance. To increase the amount of vitamin D in your diet, include fatty fish like salmon or swordfish and look for foods such as milk and cereal that are fortified with vitamin D.
Vitamin K plays a role similar to vitamin D in bone health. It helps to keep your calcium levels at a healthy balance and can especially benefit people who have osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak, brittle bones. An article published in the October 2001 issue of "Nutrition" stated that vitamin K can help to reduce risk of fractures and strengthen the bone in individuals with osteoporosis. This vitamin can be found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, collard greens and kale as well as broccoli and brussels sprouts.
While some nutrients support bone health, other nutrients can hurt your skeletal system if you over-consume them. For example, phosphorus supports your skeletal system, but eating more does not necessarily make your bones stronger. In fact, keeping a balance between calcium and phosphorus intake is important. Consuming too much phosphorus may interfere with your body's ability to absorb calcium, leading to decreased bone density. Aim to consume the appropriate level of phosphorus, which is 1,250 milligrams each day. This mineral is found in milk, grains, protein-rich foods and soda.
Lauren Elizabeth is a health and fitness professional based in upstate New York. She earned her master's degree in nutrition communications. Elizabeth has written for nonprofit organizations and universities, focusing on nutrition, physical health and mental health.