Health Library

Categories > Diet and Nutrition > Vitamins, minerals and herbs

The 4 ‘secret’ ingredients that keep bones strong

Imagine not being able to hold your newborn grandson in your arms. Or not being strong enough to take a walk with your friends on a beautiful day. Unfortunately, this is a reality for more than 50 percent of people who lose much of their independence after sustaining a hip fracture resulting from osteoporosis, or brittle bones, according to the National Osteo-porosis Foundation.

As you age, your risk for developing osteoporosis increases, which is why you need to get the right blend of nutrients and activity to keep your bones strong. Mix together the following powerful ingredients to create a winning recipe for strong bones:


As you age, your body becomes less effective at absorbing calcium. Yet some medicines, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants, and chemotherapy can make absorption worse. If your body can’t get enough calcium from what you eat, it will leech it from your bones—making bones weaker and prone to breakage.

  • How much you need: 1,200 mg for adults 51 and older
  • Good food sources: Dairy products; calcium-fortified orange juice; dark, leafy green vegetables; bone-in salmon; tofu; almonds
  • Make the most of supplements: Most Americans don’t get enough calcium in their diets, so a supplement can bridge the nutritional gap. Experts recommend taking supplements with food and spreading your intake out over the course of a day for better absorption.

Vitamin D

Even if you get enough calcium, your body can’t absorb it without vitamin D.

  • How much you need: 400 IU daily for adults 70 and younger, 600 IU for adults 71 and older
  • Good food sources: Fish, egg yolks, liver, fortified cereal
  • Make the most of supplements: Most people can get their daily vitamin D supply from sunlight, but if you live where there’s little sun or you’re housebound, you may need a calcium supplement with added vitamin D. Check with your healthcare provider before taking this or any supplement.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K activates bone-building proteins like osteocalcin. Too little osteocalcin has been linked to hip fractures.

  • How much you need: 65 mcg a day for adult females, 80 mcg a day for adult males
  • Good food sources: Dark green vegetables like spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chicory

Physical activity

Exercising works your bones harder, which makes them stronger and denser, and you can reap its benefits no matter what your age. If you have osteoporosis, working out can lessen its toll and build bone.

  • How much you need: At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days
  • Make the most of activity: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, hiking, jogging and stair climbing are some of the best bone builders. Low-impact exercises such as cycling or swimming, while great for the heart, don’t work bones as effectively. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.