Nutrition affects all aspects of your health, keeping your brain healthy and your bones strong. It is essential to give your bones the nutrients they need to maintain bone density and speed up the bone healing process.
Bones serve as a repository for calcium and phosphorus, produce bone marrow, and serve as anchors and supports for muscle contraction. Bones are both strong and flexible. After a bone fracture, your bone needs to repair the fracture and strengthen damaged bone. Consuming foods rich in key nutrients can help broken bones heal faster. Choose whole foods, healthy sources of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates to support your bones and overall health.
Hormones control the balance of calcium and phosphorus in bone, and mechanical stresses on bone impact its density. Consuming healthy foods and engaging in regular weight-bearing exercise keep your muscles and bones ready for top performance. By managing your body composition, you can help avoid unwanted damage to bones and joints.
In This Article
Protein makes up about half of bone volume and one-third of its mass. It provides a matrix for calcium-phosphate crystals to settle within.1 While calcium and other mineral salts give bone strength, protein is used to make collagen, which gives bone flexibility. Low protein intake is associated with decreased bone density and potentially increased fracture risk.2 The effect of dietary protein on bone appears to be favorable, but scientific evidence is lacking.1
Dietary sources rich in protein include the following:
Iron is essential for red blood cell development. Too much or too little iron can upset the delicate balance between bone production and destruction. Bone is like a calcium bank. Deposits are made after you consume dietary calcium or a supplement. Withdrawals are made as body organs need calcium. Bones are completely reformed about every ten years. Areas of bone under increased stress build up bone, and bone that is not stressed breaks down. This is why exercise is also important for maintaining healthy bones.
Iron overload can cause3
Iron is essential for delivering oxygen to bone and is involved in collagen production and vitamin D metabolism. Iron deficiency is thought to adversely affect bone, but the mechanism is unclear.4
The RDA for iron is based on age:
|0 to 6 months||0.27 mg|
|7- 12 months||11 mg|
|1-3 years||7 mg|
|4-8 years||10 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg male, 15 mg female, nonpregnant, not lactating|
|19-50 years||8 mg|
|51 and older||8 mg|
Excellent sources rich in dietary iron include:
Calcium is the principal mineral in bones. It provides bone strength and structure. Bones store more than 98% of the calcium in your body.5 Your body withdraws calcium from your bones throughout the day to supply the needs of other body organs. Calcium is essential for muscle contraction, blood clotting, hormone release, and sending messages throughout the nervous system. Bone is continuously remodeled in response to the stresses your muscles put on it.
Calcium cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed in the diet.
The U.S. RDA for calcium varies throughout your lifetime:
|Age||US RDA calcium|
|0-6 months||200 mg|
|7-12 months||260 mg|
|1-3 years||700 mg|
|4-8 years||1,000 mg|
|9-18 years||1,300 mg|
|19-50 years||1,000 mg (nonpregnant or lactating)|
|41-70 years||1,000 mg male, 1,200 female|
|70 plus years||1,200 mg|
Calcium absorption decreases with age, and there is an inverse relationship between the amount of calcium in food and the percentage absorbed. For example, if you consume 200 mg of calcium daily, about 45% is absorbed. If your intake increases to 2,000 mg per day, the percentage absorbed drops to 15%.6 Supplying your body with calcium can significantly reduce bone loss.7
Dietary sources rich in calcium include:
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential for building collagen, the protein that gives bone flexibility. Collagen forms a matrix in bone, and the calcium salts sit in this matrix. Severe vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, which results in weakened bones, poor wound healing, and impaired immunity. After completing a systematic review of the scientific literature, researchers concluded that vitamin C improves bone healing and bone formation, though they were unable to recommend a specific vitamin C dose.8
The RDA for vitamin C is:
|0-6 months||40 mg|
|7-12 months||50 mg|
|1-3 years||15 mg|
|4-8 years||25 mg|
|9-13 years||45 mg|
|14-18 years||75 mg males, 65 mg females|
|19 and older||90 mg males, 75 mg females|
Your body cannot produce vitamin C, so it must be consumed in the diet or as a supplement. Foods rich in vitamin C include the following:
Calcium cannot be absorbed from the small intestine without vitamin D. Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is known as ergocalciferol, and it is found in plants and mushrooms. Vitamin D3, known as cholecalciferol, is commonly found in meats, fatty fish, and egg yolks. Vitamin D, whether from food, supplements, or exposure to ultraviolet light, must be activated in the body before it is useful.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption from the gut and helps maintain healthy calcium and phosphate levels in the bones and throughout the body. It also reduces inflammation, modulates the immune response, and plays a role in glucose metabolism and cell growth.
The U.S. RDA for vitamin D varies throughout your lifetime.9
|0-12 months||400 IU|
|1-70 years||600 IU nonpregnant, not lactating|
|Over age 70||800 IU|
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but these have some:
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, but it is also important for bone health. Vitamin K and vitamin D have a synergistic role in maintaining bone density and reducing fracture risk. Preliminary results from a human intervention study suggested that a combination of vitamin K and vitamin D improved bone density.10,11
The adequate intakes (AIs) for vitamin K vary by age:
|0-6 months||2.0 mcg|
|7-12 months||2.5 mcg|
|1-3 years||30 mcg|
|4-8 years||55 mcg|
|9-13 years||60 mcg|
|14-18 years||75 mcg|
|19 and older||120 mcg males, 90 mcg female|
Dietary sources rich in vitamin K include the following:
Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with decreased bone density. However, the mechanism is not well understood. Decreased vitamin B12 may be linked to decreased growth hormone and insulin growth factor 1.12
The US RDA for vitamin B12 varies by age.
|0-6 month||0.4 mcg|
|7-12 months||0.5 mcg|
|1-3 years||0.9 mcg|
|4-8 years||1.2 mcg|
|9-13 years||1.8 mcg|
|14-18 years||2.4 mcg|
|19 years||2.4 mcg|
Dietary sources high in vitamin B12 include the following:
Dietary potassium may neutralize acids in your body and reduce calcium loss from the bone. In one study, men aged fifty and older and postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium in their diet had the highest bone density.13
The US RDA for potassium varies by age.
|0-6 months||400 mg|
|7-12 months||860 mg|
|1-3 years||2,000 mg|
|4-8 years||2,300 mg|
|9-13 years||2,500 mg male, 2,300 mg female|
|14-18 years||3,000 mg male, 2,300 mg female nonpregnant, not lactating|
|19-50 years||3,400 mg male, 2,3600 mg female nonpregnant, not lactating|
|51 years and older||3,400 mg male, 2,600 mg female|
Dietary sources high in potassium include the following:
Like potassium, magnesium can also neutralize acids, protecting bone density. Magnesium helps with over 300 chemical reactions throughout the body. Magnesium deficiency reduces bone density and interferes with vitamin D production. Magnesium helps activate vitamin D, and vitamin D increases magnesium absorption.14
The U.S. RDA for magnesium is based on age:
|0-6 months||30 mg|
|7-12 months||75 mg|
|1-3 years||80 mg|
|4-8 years||130 mg|
|9-13 years||240 mg|
|14-18 years||410 mg male, 360 mg female nonpregnant, not lactating|
|19-30 years||400 mg male, 310 mg female nonpregnant, not lactating|
|31- 50 years||420 mg male, 320 mg female nonpregnant, not lactating|
|51 years and older||420 mg male, 320 mg female|
Foods rich in magnesium include:
Because of dietary restrictions and personal preferences, not everyone consumes the recommended daily allowance of these nutrients. Supplements can help fill the gap.
The foods to avoid when you have a broken bone are processed, calorie-dense, and nutrient-poor.
It’s also a good idea to avoid15-19
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Shams-White MM, Chung M, Du M, et al. Dietary protein and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Am J Clin Nutr. Jun 2017;105(6):1528-1543. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.145110
2. Bonjour JP. Protein intake and bone health. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. Mar 2011;81(2-3):134-42. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000063
3. Jeney V. Clinical Impact and Cellular Mechanisms of Iron Overload-Associated Bone Loss. Front Pharmacol. 2017;8:77. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00077
4. Balogh E, Paragh G, Jeney V. Influence of Iron on Bone Homeostasis. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). Oct 18 2018;11(4)doi:10.3390/ph11040107
5. Vannucci L, Fossi C, Quattrini S, et al. Calcium Intake in Bone Health: A Focus on Calcium-Rich Mineral Waters. Nutrients. Dec 5 2018;10(12)doi:10.3390/nu10121930
6. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. The National Academies Press; 2011.
7. Cashman KD. Diet, nutrition, and bone health. J Nutr. Nov 2007;137(11 Suppl):2507s-2512s. doi:10.1093/jn/137.11.2507S
8. Barrios-Garay K, Toledano-Serrabona J, Gay-Escoda C, Sánchez-Garcés M. Clinical effect of vitamin C supplementation on bone healing: A systematic review. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. May 1 2022;27(3):e205-e215. doi:10.4317/medoral.24944
9. Del Valle HB, Yaktine AL, Taylor CL, Ross AC. Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. 2011;
10. Weber P. Vitamin K and bone health. Nutrition. Oct 2001;17(10):880-7. doi:10.1016/s0899-9007(01)00709-2
11. Hao G, Zhang B, Gu M, et al. Vitamin K intake and the risk of fractures: A meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). Apr 2017;96(17):e6725. doi:10.1097/md.0000000000006725
12. Roman-Garcia P, Quiros-Gonzalez I, Mottram L, et al. Vitamin B₁₂-dependent taurine synthesis regulates growth and bone mass. J Clin Invest. Jul 2014;124(7):2988-3002. doi:10.1172/jci72606
13. Kong SH, Kim JH, Hong AR, Lee JH, Kim SW, Shin CS. Dietary potassium intake is beneficial to bone health in a low calcium intake population: the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) (2008-2011). Osteoporos Int. May 2017;28(5):1577-1585. doi:10.1007/s00198-017-3908-4
14. Rondanelli M, Faliva MA, Tartara A, et al. An update on magnesium and bone health. Biometals. Aug 2021;34(4):715-736. doi:10.1007/s10534-021-00305-0
15. Liu ZH, Tang ZH, Zhang KQ, Shi L. Salty food preference is associated with osteoporosis among Chinese men. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. Dec 2016;25(4):871-878. doi:10.6133/apjcn.102015.06
16. Fung TT, Arasaratnam MH, Grodstein F, et al. Soda consumption and risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. Sep 2014;100(3):953-8. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.083352
17. de França NA, Camargo MB, Lazaretti-Castro M, Peters BS, Martini LA. Dietary patterns and bone mineral density in Brazilian postmenopausal women with osteoporosis: a cross-sectional study. Eur J Clin Nutr. Jan 2016;70(1):85-90. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2015.27
18 .Seo S, Chun S, Newell MA, Yun M. Association between alcohol consumption and Korean young women’s bone health: a cross sectional study from the 2008 to 2011 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. BMJ Open. Oct 13 2015;5(10):e007914. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-007914
19. Berman NK, Honig S, Cronstein BN, Pillinger MH. The effects of caffeine on bone mineral density and fracture risk. Osteoporos Int. Jun 2022;33(6):1235-1241. doi:10.1007/s00198-021-05972-w