When it comes to healthy bones, little decisions throughout the day about what to eat (and what not to) can make a big difference—for better or for worse. We’ve asked Dr. Diane Schneider, author of The Complete Book of Bone Health, and Vivian Goldschmidt, author of the Save Our Bones Program, to zero in on the most common bad bone behaviors in the kitchen, and help you make better choices at mealtime.
Bad bone behavior: You take your calcium first-thing, along with the other medications you pop every day.
Better: Vitamins and medications can interact in ways that decrease their effectiveness. Calcium, for instance, interferes with thyroid medicine. Even over-the-counter drugs like antacids and fiber supplements can inhibit vitamin absorption. If you have medications that you must take on a schedule, down them first; then wait until mid-morning to pop your calcium. And note that you’ll need to split your dose in two, and take half in the morning and half in the evening to get the recommended 1,000mg to 1,200mg of calcium (depending on your individual calcium needs), because you can only absorb 600mg of calcium at a time.
Bad bone behavior: You make your morning oatmeal with water.
Better: Don’t miss this opportunity to sneak in 300mg of extra calcium by cooking your oatmeal in the microwave or on the stovetop with a cup of milk. If you’re lactose intolerant or avoiding dairy milk for some reason, try calcium-fortified unsweetened almond milk. Throw in some blueberries and almonds to get bone-boosting polyphenols and trace minerals as well.
Bad bone behavior: Craving a creamy snack, you reach for one of your kids’ pudding cups.
Better: For a smarter choice for bones, choose yogurt—it typically packs more calcium than pudding. Look for the words “contains live cultures” on the label: These friendly bacteria help your body absorb nutrients like calcium and release plant compounds that are beneficial to bones, like phytoestrogens and polyphenols.
Bad bone behavior: You put bacon bits on your spinach salad.
Better: Spinach contains oxalates, plant compounds that keep calcium from being absorbed. So switch spinach out for kale, which is also high in vitamin K, another bone-builder. And ditch the bacon due to its bone-depleting nitrates and salt. Instead, top your salad with sunflower seeds, which are rich in zinc, copper and manganese to help renew bone structure.
Bad bone behavior: You (or your kids) have apple juice with breakfast.
Better: Although some brands of apple juice are calcium-fortified (amounts vary widely, so check labels), most are primarily sugar and water, with little to nourish bones. Instead, choose 4 ounces of calcium-fortified orange juice instead, and get collagen-building vitamin C and 150mg of calcium.
Bad bone behavior: You start your morning with a cup (or more!) of Joe.
Better: Researchers aren’t sure why, but studies show that people who drink more than three cups of coffee a day have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Get your caffeine kick from a spot of tea instead: People who drink tea—green, black or even white—have better bone density, perhaps because of its high polyphenol content and bone-building fluoride.
Bad bone behavior: Your high-protein diet has you eating red meat every day.
Better: Choose wild salmon instead of a steak or burger. The omega-3 fatty acids in wild salmon reduce the inflammation in your body that damages bone-building cells called osteoclasts. Farmed salmon also delivers these good fats, but typically at lower levels than wild salmon.
Bad bone behavior: You hit the soda machine for your afternoon diet cola.
Better: Phosphoric acid, which gives cola its tangy taste, has been linked to lower bone density in some studies. Colas contain the highest amounts of phosphoric acid, but it may be present in other sodas as well. Satisfy your need for bubbles instead by having seltzer water or club soda with a little juice. Pomegranate juice, in particular, has lots of polyphenols, which boost bone density.
Bad bone behavior: Since you drink vitamin D-fortified milk, you think you’re getting all the D you need.
Better: The truth is that most people don’t get enough vitamin D from food alone—or even from the little sun exposure they get on a regular basis. Experts recommend taking 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D3, but if you’ve been vitamin D-deprived for a while, you may need more to catch up. Get your doctor’s advice on the optimal dose for you.
Bad bone behavior: You munch on potato chips while watching the tube.
Better: The sodium in potato chips and other salty snacks drains calcium from your body. Satisfy your need for crunch while taking in less sodium and getting some bone-boosting vitamin K with homemade kale chips: Simply toss washed kale leaves (stems removed) with olive oil and salt, and toast on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until leaves are crisp but not burned (about 10 minutes). Another option: Choose lightly salted or unsalted roasted soybeans, which are a decent source of calcium and polyphenols.