When you’re younger, your body builds new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, increasing bone mass. But as you age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created, which may lead to weakened bones. Age isn’t the only factor; gender, race, family history, and body frame size also affect bone health. The good news is that while you can’t completely prevent some degree of bone loss over time, there are ways to strengthen your bones and decelerate bone aging.
What you eat and drink can be a major factor in bone health, which includes incorporating more bone-healthy minerals into your diet. And it’s not just about what you eat—it’s also what you drink. We spoke with Brittany Dunn, MS, RDN, CD, and member of our Medical Expert Board, to learn more about drinking habits that can help keep your bones healthy and prevent aging.
According to Dunn (and honestly, your mother), drinking milk is one good way to deliver important nutrients to your bones.
“Fortified milk and milk alternatives contain vitamin D, calcium, and protein to support bone health,” says Dunn.
Fortified milk is cow’s milk that contains extra vitamins and minerals that are not naturally found in significant quantities in ordinary milk. If you’re lactose intolerant or just not a fan of cow’s milk, you can find milk alternatives that also contain extra vitamins. These include plant-based milk options like soy, oat, rice, coconut, cashew, and almond.
How do you know if your milk is fortified? You should be able to tell from the label. And for those who don’t like any of those milk options, Dunn recommends kefir—a “drinkable yogurt” full of probiotics.
If you don’t like your milk “straight,” don’t worry, there are other ways to mix it into your diet. Dunn points out that adding some type of dairy to your smoothie is a great way to help bones stay healthy.
According to the journal Nutrition Today, protein makes up roughly 50 percent of bone volume and about one-third of bone mass. And since dietary protein is a key nutrient for bone health, it may be able to help in the prevention of osteoporosis.
If dairy products are completely off the table for you, fortunately, there are other ways to get your calcium intake.
“Spinach and other green leafy veggies are a good source of calcium,” says Dunn, adding that spinach is an especially good leafy green to add to your smoothie, because you may not even taste it once it’s blended with other ingredients, but you’ll still reap the nutritional benefits.
However, she does warn that spinach contains a high amount of oxalate—a naturally occurring compound that binds to calcium, which can potentially lead to the formation of kidney stones.
As an alternative to spinach, another great leafy green to consider adding to your diet is kale. It is recommended that most people consume 2,500 mg of calcium per day. Half a cup (100 mg) of kale contains 254 mg of calcium, or 10 percent of your daily intake, making it another excellent source of calcium that is also smoothie-friendly.
According to Dunn, fruits work as great digestive equalizers that support balanced pH levels that in turn help maintain calcium levels.
One fruit that’s especially useful for improving bone health is prunes. According to a study published by the Integrative and Biomedical Physiology Program and the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University, eating roughly 6 to 12 prunes per day may help with reducing inflammation disruptions that may contribute to bone loss in postmenopausal women. If the thought of prunes makes you cringe, try drinking fortified orange juice, which provides 350 mg of calcium, or roughly 25% of your daily value. As a bonus, it’s chock full of vitamin C, another important nutrient for maintaining bone health. You’ll get 100% of your recommended daily intake in just one serving, which is a win-win. And once again, you can combine fruits together in a smoothie to maximize the benefits of each ingredient. You won’t even taste the prunes!