Hacks for bone health, plus the plants to help prevent osteoporosis

By The Gut Health Doctor Team

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

Weight for weight, healthy bone is as strong as steel. But, did you know that, if it’s weakened (like in the case of osteoporosis), the force of a single sneeze could break it? Many people overlook their bone health, until a fracture occurs. However, with some simple bone-friendly diet and lifestyle hacks, you can strengthen that skeleton!

So what’s happening to our bones over time, and why do we need to look after them?

It helps to think of your bones as living things that are constantly broken down and replaced with new bone. Your skeleton is completely replaced over a decade. However, from the age of about 30, we lose more bone than we make. This leads to a progressive loss of bone mass.

Osteoporosis is a condition that accelerates this process even more. The bones become more fragile and more likely to break – even a sudden move could lead to a fracture. Oestrogen depletes in women during peri and postmenopause, which speeds up bone loss even more. 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 years (and 1 in 5 men) will experience bone fractures as a result of this condition (review study)*. So what we can do to help?

Though genetic factors play a role here, as do some medications such as steroids, diet can play a big part.

Here is our guide to help protect you against osteoporosis.

1) Consume your calcium

Photo of a platter of calcium-rich foods, including a jug of milk, broccoli and cheese

A great starting point is to increase your intake of calcium-rich food. It may come as no surprise that calcium is one of the key minerals needed for bone health. But calcium not only helps to give bone strength and structure, it’s also needed for a whole host of other roles in your body. For example helping blood to clot, digestive enzymes to work, heart to beat and muscles to contract. And because it’s needed elsewhere in the body, if you’re not getting enough calcium through your diet, your body can begin to leech it from your bones, causing them to weaken.

Here’s our checklist of our favourite foods to start integrating into your diet for optimal bone health and to reduce your risk of osteoporosis:

Calcium-rich foods
  • Fermented dairy such as yoghurt, kefir and good-quality cheese
  • Sardines (the bones are especially rich in calcium)
  • The ends of chicken wings (crisp them up in the oven for a delicious and calcium-rich snack, with two providing 400 mg or so of the 700mg of calcium we need daily)
Plant-only calcium sources
  • Tofu set in calcium (it will say on in the ingredients list)
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spring greens
  • Plant-based milks that are calcium-enriched (recommended if you only eat plants)

Note: Although spinach, dried fruits, beans, seeds and nuts contain calcium they also contain oxalates and/or phytates, which bind to the calcium and therefore reduce how much calcium your body absorbs. These foods are still great to include, but just don’t rely on them as your main source of calcium.

2) Eat smart

Aim to eat two calcium-rich meals a day rather than trying to pack it all into one big one. The pathways through which calcium absorbs can become saturated (picture a bottleneck on a busy road), so spacing your intake out throughout the day aids optimal absorption. Make sure you’re getting your vitamin D, as sufficient levels help increase calcium absorption by an amazing 50%.

If you’re aiming to reach your happy weight, avoid crash diets, as eating less than 1000 calories per day can lower bone density. Research by the University of Colorado in the U.S. found that bone loss resulting from weight loss was not reversed following weight regain.

3) Onions to battle osteoporosisPhoto of a bunch of brown onions on a wooden block with a plant in the background

According to the Journal of Menopause, a 2009 study demonstrated that women over the age of 50 who consumed onions once or more a day had better bone density than those who consumed them once a month or less. But why is this?

As a prebiotic, onions feed gut bacteria and make the gut more acidic, which helps make calcium more absorbable. Prebiotics are also metabolised by bacteria and transformed into short-chain fatty acids, which may help regulate the osteoclasts (the cells responsible for breaking down bone) and bone mass. And that’s not all! Onions specifically contain the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, thought to stimulate osteoblasts (the cells that generate new bone).

4) Work out those bones!

Among its many other well-known benefits, exercise is also super for your skeleton. Go for weight-bearing or high-impact exercises, as these exert a force that encourages the cells to form new bone in response. Some examples include running, brisk walking, aerobics or tennis or even simply climbing the stairs!

An illustration of a bowl of fruit and vegetables with a man jumping into the bowl, another man outside the bowl running and another man lifting weights next to a water bottle, half a kiwi and pot of tablets


It’s never too early (or late!) to start thinking about bone health – not only are lots of the above tips flavourful and easy additions to your daily life – but osteoporosis and weak bones can ultimately rob you of your independence. In many cases, following these simple diet and lifestyle adjustments can help prevent future problems, but if you or a loved one worry about bone health and want a personalised plan to prevent future issues, talk to one of our specialist registered dietitians at The Gut Health Clinic.


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