I've recently heard of at least a dozen friends and family members of all ages (including my husband who took a nasty tumble at Torrey Pines Preserve), who have suffered fractures — from femurs, fibulas and fingers to ribs and wrists. Accidents happen, but our skeletons, which are live organs, can still be fortified with a mindful diet to prevent breaks, lessen blows, and reduce risks of developing osteoporosis.
While calcium gets all the kudos for building strong bones, foods with rich stores of Vitamins D, C and K, magnesium and potassium are indispensible for dialing up bone mass and calcium absorption. So bone up on these treasures from the sea and land to help steer clear of cast rooms and orthopedic surgeons.
Land of Milk and Honey: For decades cow dairy, especially milk has been the prescribed king of calcium for strong bones (and white moustaches). But if you don't do moo milk yogurts and kefir drinks are both calcium and probiotic powerhouses that not only amp up bones, but also gut and immune health. Goat dairy of all manners is far more digestible and indulgent than cow products, while many plant-based milks, cheeses, and frozen treats made from almond, cashew, soy, oat, and pea protein have comparable levels of calcium and D's to animal dairy.
Turn Over a New Leaf: Perhaps Popeye acquired his hysterical strength from eating his favorite superfood—spinach. While dark leafy greens from kale, cabbage and bok choy to arugula, collard and beet greens have a mother lode of bone-boosting calcium, spinach's the runaway champ. There's more. Packed with Vitamin K and magnesium, spinach cranks up the formation of bone protein, and puts the skids on calcium excretion. So kick off the day with an invigorating spinach and banana smoothie, or spinach and wild mushroom frittata. For light meals whip up a warm spinach and smoked almond salad, (recipe below), a spinach and goat cheese strudel, gratin or soufflé.
Plenty of Fish to Fry : Wild-caught salmon is a treasure trove of bone and joint nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and Vitamin D. Canned salmon has an added oomph of calcium for protecting bone mass and general bone health with the soft edible bones that can be mashed with the fish, along with choice herbs and spices. Good things come in small packages like sardines loaded with bone strengthening calcium, D's, phosphorous, and omega-3's. Toss grilled sardines with linguini, fresh fennel, and tangerine zest, or layer on a toasted garlic baguette.
Use Your Bean: Add a cup of lentils, kidneys, pintos, black beans, garbanzos, cannellinis or favas to your soups, stews, chilis, or breakfast burritos to ratchet up magnesium and calcium in your diet.
Fig Out: Grab this fresh, calcium-rich California treasure when they're good and plenty during the summer and fall seasons, or buy dried figs throughout the year. Indulge by tossing figs in quick breads or scones, salads or baked chicken dishes, on cheese platters, or eaten as a handy snack.
Get Crackin': Eggs are one of the few foods in nature endowed with a goodly store of Vitamin D — in the yolks only. So scrap the egg white omelettes this time around, and have a yolk.
Tart Little Darlings: Citrus in all shapes and forms — Blood or Navel oranges, tangerines, lemons and limes — have a rich supply of Vitamin C that manufactures collagen acting like nature's rebar to give structural support to bone tissue. Squirt, slice, zest. Toss in salads, sauces, seafood, rice and pasta dishes, or eat straight out of hand. For less acidic options sweet peppers, broccoli, strawberries, papaya and kiwi will fill the Vitamin C bill.
Almond Joy: Kudos to this nutrient-dense seed packed with bone-friendly phytonutrients like magnesium and calcium. Incorporate almonds in every meal from breakfast smoothies with almond milk and fresh berries to divine dinners of almond-encrusted baked salmon over a bed of garlic sautéed spinach. Snack on them straight up all-day mixed with dried fruits or au naturel.
Other bone-boosting heroes: green tea, sweet potatoes, prunes, garlic, chia and flaxseeds.
Bad to the Bone: Alas! Salt, caffeine and carbonated soft drinks have been linked to leaching calcium from the bones; use in moderation.
Recipe: Warm Spinach Smoked Almond Salad
Ingredients: 1 bag or bunch fresh baby spinach, rinsed, stems removed; 1 tablespoon shallots, minced; 2 1/2 tablespoons smoked almonds, chopped; 1/4 cup almond oil; 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1 teaspoon orange blossom honey; 1 teaspoon tarragon leaves, chopped
Method: Place spinach and almonds in salad bowl. In a saucepan on low heat, sauté shallots in oil, juice and vinegar until tender. Blend in honey, tarragon and seasonings. Mix well. Pour over spinach, and toss. Garnish with tangerine slices.