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Patient Guide to Osteoporosis Prevention

Dietary Tips for Osteoporosis Prevention

Calcium, Vitamin D, and More

You’ve heard it before: calcium helps to keeps your bones strong. A healthy, balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (which helps your body absorb calcium) is important for healthy bones and can lower your chances of developing osteoporosis.

The following sections provide information on the ways that calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients promote bone health—and simple ways to incorporate them into your diet.

Why Calcium Is Important
Many studies have demonstrated an association between calcium intake and bone mass—not getting enough calcium during your youth can play a significant role in your osteoporosis risk.

Still, research has shown that many people in the US get far less than the recommended daily amounts of calcium. It is estimated that the following groups of people get less than adequate amounts of calcium through both diets and supplements: boys aged 9-13; girls aged 9-18; women over the age of 50; and men over the age of 70.1

The amount of calcium you need during your lifetime changes; for example, you require more calcium as you get older, or if you are pregnant. Consult the chart below for recommendations about the amount of calcium you should consume each day. 

Children and Adolescents

Calcium (Daily)

1 through 3 years

500 mg

4 through 8 years

800 mg

9 through 18 years

1,300 mg

Adult Women and Men

Calcium (Daily)

19 through 49 years

1,000 mg

50 years and over

1,200 mg

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

Calcium (Daily)

18 years and under

1,300 mg

19 years and over

1,000 mg

*Calcium recommendations from the National Osteoporosis Foundation

Where to Get Calcium
Calcium can be found in a variety of foods, such as:

  • leafy green vegetables, like kale (94 mg/serving)
  • salmon (181 mg/serving)
  • calcium-fortified orange juice (375 mg/serving)
  • non-fat milk (299 mg/serving)
  • low-fat yogurt (415 mg/serving)

*Calcium estimates from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

You may also benefit from taking calcium supplements in pill or powder form.

Why Vitamin D Is Important
Vitamin D is important because it helps your body absorb calcium. The nutrient is created in your skin when you are exposed to sunlight.

Some people are able to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from the sun. However, vitamin D deficiency is common—a recent study of more than 4,000 Americans found that 42% had low vitamin D levels. People who are especially vulnerable to vitamin D deficiencies include: the elderly (as you age, vitamin D production decreases); people who are bed-ridden or housebound, since they may not get enough sun; and people who have certain neurological or gastrointestinal conditions.

Check the chart below for the amount of vitamin D you should get daily.

Children and Adolescents

Vitamin D (Daily)

1 through 3 years

400 IU*

4 through 8 years

400 IU*

9 through 18 years

400 IU*

Adult Women and Men

Vitamin D (Daily)

19 through 49 years

400-800 IU**

50 years and over

800-1000 IU**

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

Vitamin D (Daily)

18 years and under

400-800 IU**

19 years and over

400-800 IU**

*Vitamin D recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics
**Vitamin D recommendations from the National Osteoporosis Foundation

Where to Get Vitamin D
Besides sunlight, vitamin D can be found in:

  • oily fish, like salmon (447 IUs/serving)
  • egg yolks (44 IUs/large egg)
  • vitamin D fortified milk (115-124 IUs/serving)
  • vitamin D supplements

*Vitamin D estimates from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Why a Healthy Diet (Overall) Is Important
While you should focus on calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis, don’t forget to ensure that the rest of your diet benefits your bone health.

A healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can also help strengthen your bones and protect you from osteoporosis. Fruits and vegetables are rich in things like vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium which can all contribute to your bone strength—and your health overall.

A healthy diet at all stages in life can be critical in helping you prevent osteoporosis as you age. Calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients are all important for strong, healthy, and fracture-free bones.

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