By now, we hope you know that your bones require calcium to stay strong. Milk, yogurt and cheese are the quintessential staples for buff bones, and each “Got Milk?” ad that’s existed over the years has pounded that into our skulls.But you shouldn’t ignore what most guys think of as a women’s issue. When men hit the age of 30, their bones grow at a slower rate and start to disintegrate more quickly, says Wayne Johnson, M.D., president of the Oklahoma State Orthopaedic Society. Plus, nearly 2 million American men currently suffer from osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.Lest you risk snapping your leg like UFC fighter Anderson Silva did in a recent fight, it’s about time you brush up on your bone health. (Think osteoporosis affects only old ladies? Assess your skeletal health with this test.)It’s not just about getting your recommended 1,000 mg of calcium each day, but also about consuming grub with nutrients you need to help store that precious calcium—like vitamin D, potassium and manganese. Read on to discover the often-forgotten power foods of bone building.–By Ashley Balcerzak, Men’s Health
Peanuts or Walnuts
Men suffering from osteoporosis often have a shortage of zinc, a nutrient found in peanuts or walnuts that aids in bone formation, says Susan Bowerman, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Zinc multiplies enzymes called alkaline phosphatase that stimulates bone growth, according to a review by Ohio University. However, just stick to 11 mg of zinc a day as recommended by the National Institute of Health. Going overboard can lead to side effects such as nausea, stomach cramps or headaches.More: Foods like quinoa, garlic and blueberries get a lot of buzz for their health benefits. Not a fan these fruits or veggies? Try these superfood alternatives instead.
Macadamia nuts are rich in phosphorus and manganese—both of which have been shown to strengthen your skeleton. Combined with calcium, phosphorous helps build bone structure, and low levels of manganese have been linked with poor bone formation, according to the National Institute of Health. A handful of nuts a day is also a great source of monounsaturated fat, which increases your supply of testosterone, according to the USDA. Men rely on T to be converted into estrogen, which helps your body decompose old bone and create new bone in its place.More: They can save your life—so it’s time to get to know these power-packed nuggets with your ultimate nut guide.
Beer or Wine
Downing one to two drinks led to a 4.5 percent stronger bone density than those who stuck to virgin drinks, one Tufts University study found. Beer contains silicon, a chemical that produces proteins linked with denser bones and more flexible joints. A drunken night out won’t give your bones super strength, however. The key is moderation: Those who knocked back more than three drinks had a 5.2 percent lower density and increased risk for fractures. Heavy drinking causes breakdowns in your body, including lowering of B vitamins that are important for bone health, says study author Katherine Tucker, Ph.D.More: Here are 10 reasons why beer could safeguard your heart, boost your immunity, protect your bones and more.
Swallowing some sardines or salmon provides your recommended amount of vitamin D (4,000 international units, according to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons) as well as calcium and protein, says Bowerman. Without vitamin D, all that precious calcium you are eating would not be absorbed through your gut into your bones, adds Dr. Johnson.More: Overwhelmed by the vitamin aisle? Find out what your body needs—and what it doesn’t with the Men’s Health Supplement Guide.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Stock your fridge with spinach, kale and collard greens for sources of calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, says Dr. Johnson. Low levels of vitamin K are linked to low bone mass and increased risk of hip fractures, according to a study at the University of Connecticut.More: Check out the 5 best frozen fruits and vegetables for great tasting (and good for you) produce.
Fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges are overflowing with vitamin C, an essential nutrient for collagen formation and healing fractures. According to a study from the Institute for Better Bone Health, postmenopausal women—those who are at the highest risk for fractures and osteoporosis—who took vitamin C supplements had denser bones than those who didn’t take the pills. (Don’t worry, guys, it’s just as beneficial for you, according to the study authors.)More: Add more fruits and vegetables to your daily diet, and you could slash your risk of an early death .
Bananas provide you with potassium, which neutralizes acids that take calcium out of the body. An Australian study showed elderly women had 8 percent denser bones if they packed their diets with potassium, but again, the study authors emphasized this matters for men, too. Not a banana fan? Cantaloupe and leafy greens are excellent potassium power foods, says Bowerman.More: Simply trying these 10 powerfoods can quickly improve your diet, along with helping you build muscle, stoke metabolism, boost immunity and save your heart.
Filled with magnesium and potassium, dried grapes help you keep the calcium you’re consuming. Another Tufts University study showed that people whose diets were lacking their Mg and K lost 4 to 5 percent more bone density over a year than those whose snacking habits contained more of these small nutritional powerhouses.More: Try munching one of the 20 best snacks, to supplement vital nutrients in-between your regular meals.
Look for non-fried dishes filled with edamame, broccoli, brown rice or Chinese cabbage—all ingredients brimming with calcium or magnesium, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Be sure to hold or go easy on the soy sauce, though. A Canadian study showed that when salt leaves the body, it takes calcium with it.More: The next time you pull through the drive-thru, watch out for these 5 sneaky fast-food traps.
Save the money you would’ve spent at Starbucks for something else every now and then. Overindulging on caffeine can block calcium from entering into your bones, sabotaging the role of vitamin D. If you must go with your morning pick-me-up, counteract caffeine’s negative effects by adding milk to your espresso, providing you with more calcium to seep into your skeleton, says Dr. Johnson.