Bone growth begins early in fetal development -- at a gestational age of approximately 6 to 7 weeks, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center -- and continues throughout the rest of your life. Bone-depositing cells, called osteoblasts, continually give rise to new bone tissue, while bone-destroying cells, called osteoclasts, break down old bone tissue that needs to be replaced. Diet plays an important role in bone health, and consuming certain vitamins as part of your diet helps ensure proper bone growth.
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Perhaps the vitamin best known for its role in bone health is vitamin D. It helps your body absorb calcium to make sure there is enough calcium to support bone growth. Vitamin D also affects how your body uses calcium, and maintaining adequate vitamin D levels ensures calcium won't leach from your bones and reduce bone density. Most adults need 600 international units of vitamin D each day. Get some vitamin D through moderate sun exposure, and further boost your vitamin D intake by eating dairy products, eggs, fatty fish -- such as salmon -- and fortified cereals.
Vitamin K also helps support healthy bone growth by activating three proteins essential for bone health. One of these proteins, called osteocalcin, helps your osteoblasts bind to calcium and incorporate it into new bone tissue. Another protein -- matrix Gla protein, or MGP -- promotes bone growth while preserving healthy cartilage tissue. Vitamin K also activates a third protein in osteoblasts, called protein S. While its role in bone growth is not yet clear, it appears to promote bone health and preserve bone density. A single serving of dark leafy greens fulfills your daily vitamin K requirements -- 90 micrograms and 125 micrograms for women and men, respectively. A cup of kale contains 547 micrograms of vitamin K, while Swiss chard provides 299 micrograms per cup.
Healthy bones need vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Unlike vitamins D and K, which support bone growth by promoting bone mineralization, vitamin C helps make collagen needed to keep bones strong. Collagen fibers provide structural support for your bone tissue -- think of your bones as reinforced concrete, with collagen as the rebar. Through its role in collagen production, vitamin C also strengthens your teeth, and low levels of vitamin C negatively affect both your teeth and bones. Eating a variety of fruits and veggies helps you get the 90 milligrams and 75 milligrams of vitamin C recommended for men and women, respectively. A serving of strawberries contains 85 milligrams of vitamin C, and a mere half-cup of red pepper boasts 95 milligrams.
Meal Ideas for Healthy Bones
Make healthful meals rich in vitamins D, K and C to support lifelong bone health. You can get a dose of each vitamin by making a healthful morning smoothie. Use nonfat milk as a source of vitamin D, and add frozen berries and spinach to boost your intakes of vitamins C and K. Or serve poached salmon on a bed of braised chard, then finish your meal with a bowl of fresh berries for dessert. For a bone-friendly lunch, prepare a spinach salad with strawberries and low-fat feta cheese.