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“Food and Your Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation.”
Anyone who has broken a bone or even had a hairline fracture – that includes probably most of us – knows the misery caused by the throbbing pain, myriad restrictions, and the itch beneath the plaster. While your age, health condition, and the type of fracture all determine the speed of healing, plenty of rest and proper nutrition can also hasten bone healing.
Bone healing takes a lot of energy. You should eat about 15–20 Calories per pound of your body weight. [ref]Nutrition for Healing. Hospital for Special Surgery.[/ref]
At the basic structural level, a bone is made up of rods of collagen (a protein), which are surrounded by the minerals calcium and phosphorous. While the the collagen rods provide resiliency, minerals give the bones strength. Proper nutrition can both enhance the production of collagen and speed up healing of a fractured bone. Besides eating protein- and mineral-rich foods, it’s essential to eat a high-calorie diet as your body needs a lot of energy to repair your broken bone. Eat fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, meat, fish, and dairy products, but avoid empty calories like in refined foods.
1. Calcium: Milk And Yogurt
In the second phase of bone healing, the reparative phase, you need calcium and phosphorus so that the bone may grow from each of the fracture ends. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends upping your calcium intake first and foremost to build strong dense bones. Foods that are rich sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and green vegetables like kale and spinach. Fortified foods such as soy milk, breads, and cereals also contain some added calcium.
It is essential that when consuming beverages rich in calcium you shake the bottle or container well as calcium tends to settle down at the bottom. When the body’s calcium-absorbing tendency is low, you can also consume calcium supplements.[ref]Food and Your Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation.[ref]
According to a study, children who don’t drink cow’s milk are at an increased risk for bone fractures before puberty.[ref]Black, Ruth E., Sheila M. Williams, Ianthe E. Jones, and Ailsa Goulding. “Children who avoid drinking cow milk have low dietary calcium intakes and poor bone health.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 76, no. 3 (2002): 675-680.[/ref]
[Also Read: Ways To Prevent Osteoporosis ]
Remember: Less Phosphorus Than Calcium
While it is also important to have phosphorus-rich foods like meat or dairy, a delicate calcium-phosphorus balance needs to be maintained to ensure bone health. More phosphorus than calcium often results in calcium being leached from the bones, leaving them brittle.[ref]Phosphorus. University of Maryland Medical Center.[/ref]
2. Vitamin C: Citrus Fruits
Vitamin C helps in the formation of collagen, and high doses of vitamin C have been seen to speed up bone healing.[ref]Yilmaz, Cengiz, Esra Erdemli, Hakan Selek, Hakan Kinik, Murat Arikan, and Bülent Erdemli. “The contribution of vitamin C to healing of experimental fractures.” Archives of orthopaedic and trauma surgery 121, no. 7 (2001): 426-428.[/ref]
It has another role too. Right after your bone breaks, your immune system triggers an inflammation. This inflammatory phase has harmful byproducts called free radicals which damage cells and further aggravate the inflammation. As it is a potent antioxidant, vitamin C can fight these free radicals effectively, reducing inflammation.[ref]Alcantara-Martos, T., A. D. Delgado-Martinez, M. V. Vega, M. T. Carrascal, and L. Munuera-Martinez. “Effect of vitamin C on fracture healing in elderly Osteogenic Disorder Shionogi rats.” Bone & Joint Journal 89, no. 3 (2007): 402-407.[/ref]
The richest sources of vitamin C are, of course, citrus fruits like lemon, oranges, kiwi, berries, and green vegetables.
3. Vitamin D: Mackerel, And Tuna
Vitamin D is an important component for bone health as it helps in the absorption of calcium. While sunlight is the most important source of vitamin D, foods such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna are good sources. A large egg makes up for about 10% of the daily required intake of vitamin D. Calcium supplements are also good sources of vitamin D.[ref]Food and Your Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation.[/ref] These fish also have omega-3 fats that are good for bones.
4. Vitamin K: Leafy Greens
Results from 2 large, prospective cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and relative risk of hip fracture – those consuming the highest amount of vitamin K had the lowest risk of hip fractures.[ref]Craig, Winston J. “Health effects of vegan diets.”The American journal of clinical nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1627S-1633S.[/ref] Leafy vegetables like kale and cabbage are a great source of vitamin K, and they also come with a lot of antioxidative plant nutrients.
5. Potassium: Apricots And Prunes
A 2015 study has found that the salts of potassium (bicarbonates and citrates) that are found in fruits and vegetables are essential for bone health. Potassium prevents bone resorption, a process by which bone breaks down and the minerals are released back into the blood for circulation.[ref]Lambert, Helen, L. Frassetto, J. B. Moore, D. Torgerson, R. Gannon, P. Burckhardt, and S. Lanham-New. “The effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism: a meta-analysis.” Osteoporosis International 26, no. 4 (2015): 1311-1318.[/ref] Though this is a natural process, people with osteoporosis have higher rates of bone resorption than formation. The top dietary sources of potassium include apricots, prunes, tuna, soybean, and avocado.
6. Magnesium: Quinoa And Rice Bran
Magnesium helps in the formation of bones. About 50–60% of the magnesium in your body is found in your bones.[ref]Magnesium. NIH.[/ref] Eat foods like quinoa, rice bran, spinach, almonds, cashew nuts, and pumpkin seeds for magnesium.
7. Iron: Red Meat And Spinach
Iron is essential for collagen formation. It is also essential for improving the hemoglobin content of blood so that the fractured bones get enough oxygen for healing. This is why fractures can take longer to heal with iron-deficiency anemia. Include enough red meat and poultry in your diet for the heme iron and plant sources like spinach for non-heme iron. Adding vitamin C to your diet will also ensure that the iron is adequately absorbed.[ref]Essential Nutrients to Aid Fracture Repair. The American Society of Orthopedic Professionals.[/ref]
8. Zinc: Oysters And Crabs
Zinc, a trace mineral, is also essential for bone health. In fact, lack of zinc leads to bone growth retardation. As this mineral stimulates the function of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and the mineralization of bones, it is essential for the repair of fractured bone.[ref]Yamaguchi, Masayoshi. “Role of nutritional zinc in the prevention of osteoporosis.” Molecular and cellular biochemistry 338, no. 1-2 (2010): 241-254.[/ref] Oysters are a very rich source of zinc, followed by crab, lobsters, chicken, and yogurt.[ref]Zinc. NIH.[/ref]
9. Protein: Lean Meat
Dietary protein is essential for bone healing since collagen is itself a protein. A study found that protein deficiency during the bone healing affects the formation of bone tissue.[ref]Guarniero, Roberto, Filho TE de Barros, Uenis Tannuri, Consuelo Junqueira Rodrigues, and J. D. Rossi. “Study of fracture healing in protein malnutrition.” Revista paulista de medicina 110, no. 2 (1992): 63-68.[/ref] Protein helps absorb dietary calcium into bones and also helps in the release of growth factors which help bone renewal.[ref]Essential Nutrients to Aid Fracture Repair. The American Society of Orthopedic Professionals.[/ref] The top sources of protein include lean meat, fish, soy, milk, and nuts.
Follow An Ayurvedic Pitta-Pacifying Diet
Ayurveda holds that a high amount of pitta in the body leads to reduction in structural strength. One of the seminal Ayurvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita, recommends a pitta-pacifying diet:
- Eat sweet, bitter, and astringent foods that cool the system: these foods are nourishing, vitalizing, saturating, bulk-promoting, stabilizing, compressing, healing, and absorbing in nature.
- Avoid pungent, sour and salty foods: these foods are mass-breaking and space-creating and remove stiffness, binding, and compactness.
Don’t Eat These Foods To Heal Bones
- Alcohol: Chronic drinking causes serious health problems such as pancreatitis, liver disease, heart problems, cancer, and osteoporosis. Alcohol interferes with calcium balance by increasing the parathyroid hormone which causes reduction in calcium reserves.[ref]The American journal of clinical nutrition 76.3 (2002): 675-680.[/ref] [ref]What People Recovering from Alcoholism Need to Know About Osteoporosis. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases, April 2015.[/ref]
- Too much salt: While salt intake is required for healthy functioning of the body, excess consumption of dietary salt can cause weakening of bones.
- Caffeine: Drinking more than 3 cups of coffee per day may interfere with calcium absorption in the body and may cause bone weakening.