Bones and teeth are made of the same material, and diet has an important role in maintaining bone tissue. Weakened bones can cause osteoporosis and increase fracture risk. This silent disease often goes undetected until a fracture occurs.  It can strike at any age, however, osteoporosis most often occurs in people over age 50, and according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of women and one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Maintaining bone health in youth will impact the density of your bones as you age. A healthful diet and regular weight-bearing activity are extremely important to ensure bone tissue continues to build.
Bones are living tissue, constantly under construction. Special cells break down bone tissue (osteoclasts) and other cells (osteoblasts) use the calcium and nutrients from foods you eat to build new bone. If you are not physically active or getting the nutrition you need, bones become less dense, weaker and more likely to fracture.
Calcium, is the major nutrient needed to form new bone cells. Dairy foods are calcium-rich foods including milk, yogurt and cheese, and calcium-fortified soy milk, and fortified cereal. Some plant sources also provide calcium, such as soybeans, dark green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified tofu.

Calcium needs vary at different stages of life, and the following lists the calcium need for various age groups:

  • Children ages 4 to 8 years: at least 1,000 mg/d
  • Children ages 9 to 18: at least 1,300 mg/d
  • Adults ages 19 to 50: at least 1,000 mg/d
  • Women over age 50 and men over age 70: at least 1,200 mg/d

Other nutrients work together with calcium to build and maintain bone, including vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, fluoride and magnesium to increase bone density and strength. Supplements provide calcium, but whole food sources are preferable for absorption and to promote nutrient synergy (nutrients working together). If you are not able to drink milk due to lactose intolerance, try lactose-free milk and calcium-fortified food. Consult with your doctor about taking a calcium supplement with vitamin D, especially if you are a woman in menopause or post-menopause.