American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


Dem Bones

Osteoporosis is on the rise, and despite the tons of calcium supplements we’ve been taking, our bones are not getting significantly stronger. This is because it takes more than calcium to build bones, and all of them need to show up for the bone-building party to start.

So, who’s on the invitation list? Well, calcium is indeed the host of the party. Our bones are mostly made of calcium, and we don’t have bone without it. Vitamin D is the somewhat bossy social director, regulating how much calcium we absorb during digestion, and how much we release from our bones to keep our blood pH stable. Fortified dairy products, juices and fatty fish are our best food sources of Vitamin D.

Vitamin K is the life of the party. The mechanisms that actually put calcium into bone tissue, making bones strong, are dependent on Vitamin K. Vitamin K is also necessary for our blood to clot properly when healing a wound. Dark leafy greens, beef liver, and green tea are the best sources of Vitamin K. It is fat-soluble, which means it needs to ride along with fat to be absorbed during digestion. So use some olive oil on your greens, and have a snack with your tea. Note: if you are on a blood-thinner, talk with your doctor about balancing your Vitamin K intake.

Some other nutrients we don’t always think of influencing our bone strength are Vitamin C and the sulfur compounds in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kale). Both of these are necessary for building the bone tissue that binds the calcium. Here’s the vitamin C checklist. See how many of these high vitamin-C foods are also dark green veggies? And dark green leafy veggies (especially arugula) are also good sources of calcium. See how mother nature ties all this goodness together?

Another place to find lots of bone-building nutrients are the bones that go along with the meat we eat. With the current focus on quick, low-fat cooking, cuts of meat with bones in them are not as popular as they used to be. And how many of us make stock from bones anymore?

Here’s the deal, though. One of the best ways to get the nutrients necessary for strong bones is to get them from bones. Simmering the bones into stock low and slow allows these nutrients to melt into the liquid, giving our bones what they need to stay strong. Cooking meat on the bone also allows these nutrients to melt into the meat. So the very thing that makes these meals taste so good also makes us healthier. Juicy, yes?

Eating foods made from bones also gives us the natural glucosamines that can protect our joints and ease arthritis pain. Cows and chickens have joints, too. And theirs need the same nutrients ours do.

If you eat meat, a couple of times this week make cuts with the bone in (try to buy organic when you can), and then make stock from the bones and have some soup or stew. Add plenty of veggies for their vitamins and antioxidants, and to fill you up. I know, you are worried about all the saturated fat. First, you don’t need to eat a lot of the meat – a regular 3-4 oz. portion size is enough to get the benefits. Second, adding lots of vegetables to your plate fills you up with few calories, and protects your heart. Buy organic meats when you can and more of those fats will be healthy omega-3s. Healthy animals make healthy meals. If you are going to eat meat, make it the healthiest kind possible.

While cooking this way takes a little longer, it does not take any more work on your part. Dust off your old crock-pot, use the timer on your oven, and you can get dinner started then walk away and get something else done while it cooks. And make enough to enjoy some leftovers, so you can cook once and eat twice.

Keep this up for a while and you may have less joint pain naturally. Your bones will get stronger and more dense. And you will truly enjoy your home-made, non-processed meals. They may inspire you to throw a party.


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