Many nutrients work together to provide the framework for healthy bones. These include calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K. Another important component is regular physical activity. Think of bone health as a savings account. Bone is living tissue that is turned over constantly with regular deposits and withdrawals.
During childhood and adolescence, bones are primed to make the highest rate of deposits possible for use throughout the rest of a person’s life. Research shows that adolescents reach 90 percent of their peak bone mass by age 18 for girls and 20 for boys. We want to focus on building bone mass in the early years to help guard against osteoporosis later in life.
To build strong bones that last a lifetime, children and teens need to consume appropriate calcium levels on most days. Aim for a good calcium source in each meal and snack.
Milk, cheese, yogurt, and yogurt drinks are the richest sources of calcium. For instance, one 8-ounce glass of milk (1%, 2%, or whole milk) provides 300 milligrams of calcium. Non-dairy food sources of calcium include almonds, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, figs, and tofu prepared with calcium. Some foods and beverages are fortified with calcium, including certain juices, cereals, and plant-based non-dairy beverages.
Current guidelines for daily calcium intake:
- 700 mg for children ages 1 to 3
- 1,000 mg for ages 4 to 8
- 1,300 mg for ages 9 to 18
- 1,000 mg for ages 19-50
- 1,200 mg for women ages 51-70
- 1,200 mg for 71+ years
Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production but varies significantly with skin pigmentation, season, and geography. If you live in the northern United States, there is a good chance you will not get enough sun exposure in winter for adequate vitamin D production. Keep in mind that sunscreen blocks vitamin D production.
There are just a few natural food sources of vitamin D, including egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. You can find vitamin D in fortified sources such as orange juice, milk, and some non-dairy beverages.
Magnesium can be found in food sources such as almonds, spinach, black beans, oats, peanut butter, avocado, and potato.
Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, turnip greens, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli, are rich in vitamin K.
Regular weight-bearing exercise stimulates bones and makes them stronger. Activities such as running, hiking, dancing, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and weight training help build bones. While swimming and bicycling are great for cardiovascular health, they are not weight-bearing activities, so be sure to strive for a balance of different activities.