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Healthy Bones

Build Bone Strength With a Plant-Based Diet

By eating a varied plant-based diet, you’ll get all the calcium you need to build strong bones without the added health risks of milk and other dairy products.

Leafy green vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards, are loaded with calcium. Beans, fortified juices, and plant milks are also great sources of calcium. And calcium absorption of leafy green vegetables is actually higher than cow’s milk. 

Vitamin C from citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables is essential for making collagen, the connective tissue that minerals cling to when bone is formed.

Vitamin K is thought to stimulate bone formation. It is found most abundantly in dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, but is also readily available in beans, soy products, and some fruits and vegetables.

Potassium decreases the loss of calcium from the body and increases the rate of bone building. Oranges, bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits, vegetables, and beans are all rich sources of potassium.

Magnesium, like calcium, is an important bone mineral. Studies have shown higher magnesium intakes to be associated with stronger bones. “Beans and greens”—legumes and green leafy vegetables—are excellent sources of magnesium.

Vitamin D is another important component for strong bones. The natural source of vitamin D is sunlight: Our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sun. Five to 15 minutes of midday sun exposure can be enough to meet many people’s vitamin D needs. However, having darker skin, living in the north, and even the winter season can all make it hard to get enough vitamin D from the sun alone. Therefore, fortified cereals, grains, bread, orange juice, and soy or rice milk exist as options for providing vitamin D through the diet. Supplements are also available. Milk does not naturally contain vitamin D.

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Its benefits have been observed in studies of both children and adults.

Research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bones. A 2005 review published in Pediatrics showed that drinking milk does not improve bone strength in children. In a more recent study, researchers tracked the diets, exercise, and stress fracture rates of adolescent girls and concluded that dairy products and calcium do not prevent stress fractures.  

Protecting Your Bones Fact Sheet