Imagine that you had to build a human body. How would you begin? What materials would you use? Now, instead, imagine you are building a house. What would be your first step? You don’t have to be an architect or engineer to know that when building a house, you start with the foundation. Before installing insulation, drywall and shingles, you must first give your building structure.
So, what gives a human body structure? Of course, the answer is bones! Regardless of your age, gender or activity level, your bones are what moves you. Which is why it is important to really understand how to keep them healthy. Hint, it’s not just about getting calcium!
So, what are our bones made of? The nutrient calcium may come to mind. However, calcium is but one element on the periodic table responsible for building our bones. There are many other minerals that make up our bones. These minerals must be consumed, absorbed and be in the correct ratios. As with most things pertaining to the human body, when it comes to building strong bones, balance is essential!
There are 206 bones in an adult skeleton. Bones must be light, but strong, flexible, but rigid and above all else, resilient. A bone can withstand twice as much compressive force as granite and four times the tension as of concrete. So, what are bones made of to give it all of these qualities?
Bones are light because they are not solid but porous. This is mainly due to the presence of the mineral phosphorus. However, phosphorus must be in balance with other minerals. Protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken and lentils, naturally contain phosphorus. However, phosphorus is also a common additive in the form of trisodium phosphate in packaged foods or phosphoric acid in soft drinks. A study published in 2015 concluded that consuming too much phosphorus containing additives negatively affected bone density. This is because high amounts of phosphorus will compete for absorption with other minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
All of these hard-mineral deposits are what gives bones their rigidity. Calcium and magnesium should be in balance with one another. Plant-based calcium rich foods such as dark leafy greens, almonds and sesame seeds also contain high amounts of magnesium (doesn’t that work out nicely). However, dairy products contain little to no magnesium. Although, our main bone-making minerals are calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, let’s not forget the little guys. Trace minerals such as iron, boron, zinc, copper and selenium also contribute to healthy bones. Minerals may give bones their rigidity, but we also want bones to be flexible-i.e. bend so they don’t break. This is where collagen comes in. Collagen is a protein that our body makes with the help of Vitamin C.
So, now we know what materials we need to make healthy bones, but how does it come all together? How do these nutrients get from your food to your bones? Well of course, the first step is to eat the food. The next step is digestion. Minerals are one of the hardest nutrients to absorb. Those with heart burn or low stomach acid in particular may have trouble absorbing minerals.
Once the minerals are absorbed, you then want to ensure they end up in the right place. The last place you want to find calcium is in a tissue, artery or as a stone in your kidney (ouch!). Consuming these minerals in the correct ratios, as discussed above, can help with this, as can vitamin D and vitamin K. Vitamin D is made by the body using sunlight. If you live in a cold climate, it may be a good idea to take vitamin D supplements. Vitamin K is found in dark leafy greens. However, the active form is manufactured in the gut by our beneficial bacteria, which is again why good digestive health is key.
According to the U.S. National Library of medicine approximately 65% of the population cannot digest dairy products after infancy. Eating foods your body cannot digest can cause inflammation in the digestive tract. So, while dairy products do contain calcium, it may not be the best bone-building food for everyone. Instead, there are many other foods which are not only rich in calcium, but also contain other important nutrients for the bones and promote good digestive and overall health.
Here is a quick list of foods to eat for bone health (in no particular order):
I’ve said this before, I wish it was easier. I wish I could say just eat this one food. or take this one nutrient and you will have strong healthy bones. However, our bodies are much more complex than that. Every system is interconnected and we must strive to maintain balance overall. This not only includes what we eat and drink, but also movement and mindfulness. The upside to our interconnected body is that when we seek to take care of one aspect of our health, you will find that other areas improve as well. So, taking a holistic approach to bone health may also mean you have more energy to move them.
There is so much more to bone health than what we’ve discussed here. Did you know that alkaline balance is also closely linked to bone health? What about joint health? What good are bones if you can’t bend them?
If you are concerned about bone density and would like to learn more about a holistic approach, including improving digestive health and creating an overall balanced body, check out our current specials here.
As the busy mother of three young children, Certified Nutritionist Kirsten Colella is all about adhering to healthy food habits to maintain strong, healthy bones for herself and her growing family. You can find Kirsten’s delicious recipes, colourful food pics and bone-strengthening healthy food ideas on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic