Nutrition and Bone Health

Food and nutrient intake can contribute to building and maintaining healthy, strong bones.

5 things to know about bone health


A healthy diet is not just important for general health and wellbeing.

What we eat can also affect the health of our bones1
Specialist physician and endocrinologist, Dr Zane Stevens, from the Cape Institute of Endocrinology, gives us some insight on the link between nutrition and bone health and how we can ensure strong, healthy bones at every stage of our lives.

Read on to find out what’s important for strong bones and general bone health:



How does nutrition affect the health of our bones?

Bones are living, growing and constantly changing.

To keep bones strong and healthy, and bone disease like arthritis and osteoporosis at bay, we need the right nutrients. This is where a well-balanced diet is important.

A diet filled with fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables should provide us with everything we need for optimal bone health.

But when nutrient intake is insufficient, supplementation may be necessary. However, nutrients from food are better absorbed than supplements.

In childhood & adolescence

Adequate nutrition early on helps to build peak bone mass, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

In adults

A healthy diet can help preserve bone mass. Nutrition now is highly important for bone strength.

In those who have had a fracture

Eating well can speed up recovery, and also reduces the risk of having another fracture.


Which nutrients are important for bone health?

Calcium and vitamin D. Both assist in the renewal and mineralisation of bone tissue and are essential for healthy nerve and muscle functioning.

Other key vitamins and minerals include:

Vitamins and minerals

Functions and food source

Vitamin C

Helps to lay down new bone. Red and green peppers, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya and pineapple are all rich in this vitamin.

Vitamin K

Required for the correct mineralisation of bone. Get your fix of Vitamin K by eating more dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens and Brussels sprouts.


Assists in forming bone mineral. Magnesium-rich foods to include in your diet are tomatoes, artichokes and raisins.


Helps preserve bone health. Foods high in potassium are sweet potatoes, bananas and prunes.


Is milk really important for strong bones?

Milk and other dairy products are our main source of calcium.

Calcium is one of the most important nutritional building blocks in our body.

While dairy is calcium-rich, a glass of milk is not the only way to get our recommended daily intake. Foods rich in calcium include canned sardines and salmon, collard greens, kale and broccoli. Calcium is also sometimes added to juice, breakfast cereals and bread.


Do nutrients still help after a certain age?

Even though we attain our peak bone mass in our early 20s, a healthy diet, with sufficient calcium and vitamin D, is still vital to maintain bone mass.

The requirements for these nutrients do however vary with age. Young, pregnant women require 1 200 mg of calcium a day due to the demands of the developing baby, for example.


Which factors affect the health of our bones?

  • Age (over 50 years)
  • Sex (Female)
  • Menopause – especially early menopause
  • A family history of bone disease or bone disorders
  • Low body weight – being small and/or thin
  • Broken bones or height loss.
Modifiable factors for good bone health
  • Inadequate nutrient intake – not getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
  • Excessive consumption of sodium (in table salt), alcohol and caffeine.
  • An inactive lifestyle.
  • Smoking.

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