It is estimated that sixty-seven percent of women over the age of 65 have osteopenia or a reduction in bone mass. As a precursor to osteoporosis, where the bones become weak and brittle, this can lead to more serious issues like a hip fracture. In addition to bone loss, arthritis, painful inflammation, and stiffness of joints affect 1 in 4 people in the United States. While this news may seem grim, the good news is that growing scientific evidence supports that what you eat can have a significant impact on both your risk of bone loss and joint inflammation.

Below are 6 Key Nutrients and a few supporting nutrients that you should incorporate into your diet to protect your bones and reduce inflammation.

Calcium is a mineral that has a well-established role in building strong bones. Calcium needs fluctuate for men and women over a life span. Adult men require 1,000-1,200 mg/day. Adult women’s needs depend on age and pregnancy/lactation status and range from 1,000-1,300 mg/day. While cow’s milk, yogurt, and other dairy are good sources of calcium, they aren’t the only way to achieve adequate calcium in the diet. Other great sources of calcium include dark leafy green vegetables like kale, bok choy, and broccoli; tofu; oily fish with bones like sardines; sesame tahini; and calcium-fortified foods. If your dietary intake of calcium is low, supplementation may be necessary.

Low serum Vitamin D levels are associated with the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Many people have low serum vitamin D levels, so getting yours checked is important. Very few foods are rich in Vitamin D (oily fish and fortified milk). Coined the “Sunshine Vitamin,” our bodies are capable of metabolizing vitamin D through sun exposure. Unfortunately, the use of sunscreen interferes with vitamin D metabolism. This is not to discourage the use of sunscreen. However, most people should consider supplementing a minimum of 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. In addition, calcium and vitamin D supplementation should be taken in tandem, as vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium more effectively.

Research suggests that adding Magnesium to the diet can contribute to improved bone density and strength. Foods rich in magnesium include bananas, spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, beans, avocados, whole grains, and dark chocolate.

Vitamin K is necessary for bone formation and mineralization. Vitamin K is obtained through dark, leafy green vegetables, including spinach, collards, and kale; Brussels sprouts; prunes; pumpkin, and natto.

Boron is a trace element that supports vitamin D levels in the body and helps to retain calcium and magnesium. Boron is found in raisins, prunes, apricots, and avocados.

Zinc helps promote bone growth, mineralization, and regeneration. It also helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Good sources of zinc include nuts, pumpkin seeds, beans, oysters, red meat, and poultry.

Other lesser-known players in bone health and inflammation include the following:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids benefit more than the heart: they may also reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, and tuna, other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include seaweed, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, edamame, and wheat germ.

Another trace mineral, Silica plays a role in bone mineralization. Good sources include green beans, leafy greens, bananas, lentils, brown rice, and beer (in moderation).

Vitamin C is necessary for collagen synthesis. Collagen is essential for bone development. Vitamin C can be obtained through a variety of foods including citrus, tomatoes, orange and yellow peppers, kale, and broccoli.

Popular in Indian and Middle-Eastern cuisine, Turmeric root has long been recognized as having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a polyphenol possessing these anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that supplementation with curcumin helps reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis at a level similar to over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.

Boswellia serrata is a plant that produces Indian frankincense and has been used to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis. A recent meta-analysis has shown that four weeks of Boswellia supplementation reduced joint pain and stiffness in subjects with osteoarthritis.

Proteolytic enzymes are another alternative treatment for reducing joint pain and increasing joint function in those with osteoarthritis. Papain (found in papaya) and Bromelain (found in pineapple) are two proteolytic enzymes that have shown comparable benefits in reducing pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.

Protecting your bones and reducing joint inflammation is both possible and manageable through simple dietary changes. A diet rich in a variety of colorful plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, with the addition of fatty, omega-3-rich fish can help minimize the risk of osteopenia and joint inflammation associated with arthritis. Couple these strategies with regular physical activity to maximize the benefits!

Melissa Ohlson, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach available for nutrition consultations and coaching at Charleston Sports Medicine. She can be reached at

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