If you're not a fan of milk or cheese, add these calcium-rich foods to your diet

By The Editors of Huffington Post Healthy Living
August 21, 2012

Olive oil may be most well-known for its heart-health benefits, but the monounsaturated fat could also protect against breast cancer, improve brain health, and perk up hair, skin, and nails. Now, an olive oil-rich diet may boost your health for another reason: It seems to help strengthen the bones, according to a new study.

A team of Spanish researchers examined 127 men between the ages of 55 and 80. The men who ate a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil displayed higher levels of osteocalcin in their blood, a known marker of strong and healthy bones, The Independent reports.

"The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of osteoporosis in experimental and in vitro models," lead author José Manuel Fernández-Real, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. "This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans."

Earlier research has shown that olive oil might protect against osteoporosis, according to The Independent, and the bone disease generally occurs less frequently in Mediterranean countries compared to the rest of Europe.

That said, the findings don't necessarily mean it's time to swap that glass of milk for a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

"It doesn't replace calcium and vitamin D in the diet," Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a dietitian and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told ABC News. "But including all three, and regular exercise, are showing promise as the best way to ensure good bone health."

Milk (and yogurt and cheese) isn't the only way to keep your skeleton strong. Here are some other healthy eats that have been linked to bone health:

1. Soy: Soy foods are protein-rich, dairy-free ways to boost your calcium intake. The average adult needs about 1,000 milligrams of this essential nutrient every day. A half-cup serving of tofu fortified with calcium (not all brands are prepared this way, CookingLight.com points out) contains about 25 percent of that. A cup of soybeans contains 261 milligrams of calcium, plus 108 milligrams of magnesium.

2. Fatty fish: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and tofu won't do you much good without your daily dose of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Most adults need about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day, according to the National Institutes of Health. A three-ounce serving of sockeye salmon clocks in at nearly 450 IU, a can of sardines contains 178 IU, and three ounces of canned tuna totals about 70 IU.

3. Bananas: Bananas are a well-known potassium gold mine, but don't often make lists of foods for healthy bones. However, at 422 milligrams for a medium fruit, they're not to be ignored.

4. Potatoes: Some research suggests that a potassium-rich diet may counteract some of the decline in calcium absorption seen in the typical Western diet. The average adult needs about 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. One medium sweet spud with skin has 542 milligrams and a medium white potato with the skin has 751 milligrams.

5. Almonds: Nuts-like olive oil-are rich in healthy fats and part of the typical Mediterranean diet, though the new study found a stronger relationship between healthy bones and a diet enriched with olive oil than a diet enriched with nuts. A one-ounce serving of almonds contains 80 milligrams of calcium, but it also packs nearly 80 milligrams of magnesium, another key player for strong bones. The average adult needs around 300 to 400 milligrams a day, according to the NIH.

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