What foods Improve Baby Bone Health?
Why does Baby Bone Health Matter? Think of first steps and first sports games. Bones help us move, protect us from injury and support the entire body structure . It turns out both good nutrition and regular physical activity, from infancy to adolescence, are linked to life-long bone health [1,2,3,4,5].
Our bones are not static - they are living tissues. Bone materials are constantly being removed and deposited. The rate of removal and deposition together affect the density and size of our bones. During infancy, the rate of bone tissue being deposited is much greater than it being removed, increasing its mass. This is a determining factor in reducing risk of fractures and osteoporosis later on: the higher the peak bone mass, the less chance of bone issues [1,2,3,4,5]. Lastly, promoting healthy bones can help your baby to reach his or her maximum potential height. Yes, while there is still a strong genetic component, high bone density can certainly influence the physical growth of your baby.
Key nutrients for healthy baby bones
- Calcium: 99% of calcium in the body is stored in the skeleton. The intake of calcium, along with determining factors of calcium absorption/retention, can greatly affect bone density during infancy and onwards . Taking the necessary amount of calcium for a baby’s age group (200 mg/d from 0-6 months, and 260 mg/d from 6-12 months) is key, not only for optimizing bone mass, but for growth as well .
- Vitamin D helps us absorb the calcium we eat. If we don’t have adequate Vitamin D levels only 10-15% of the calcium consumed is absorbed and utilized by the body .
- As well, a variety of nutrients and minerals including vitamin K, phosphorus and magnesium are involved in the process of building of healthy baby bones.
Foods that contain nutrients for healthy baby bones
- Breastmilk: No surprise here. This is the best source of calcium for babies [2,3]. Though most formulas and alternatives may contain the necessary levels of calcium, the bioavailability of those nutrients are lower than in human milk, and thus harder to absorb.
- Dairies: Once infants start eating solids, dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are all good sources of calcium.
- Leafy greens including broccoli provide a high bioavailability of calcium. An exception is spinach, which is high in oxalate that inhibit calcium absorption.
- Other Sources of Calcium: Almonds, calcium-fortified orange juice, fortified grains and soy products. They are all alternatives to traditional dairy options, especially for those who have lactose-intolerance [2,3,5].
- Vitamin D rich food: Mushrooms, fatty fishes and food fortified with Vitamin D .
It’s important to keep in mind that a diversity of foods is best when considering sources of nutrients, not only for bone mass/growth but also to shape babies’ palates and future eating habits. As well, one of the best sources to fill up on Vitamin D is exposing the skin to sunlight. Of course, direct sunlight isn't recommended to infants under 6 month, and that is why vitamin D supplements are recommended for infants.
Physical activity promotes healthy bones and growth
Besides nutrition, physical activities like walking, moving, and exercising also influence the growth and maintenance of bones [1,2,3]. Like muscles, bones need to be used in order to grow stronger. If not, they can deteriorate (Use it or lose it!). That doesn’t mean that a one-year-old needs to play soccer or else they’ll risk loss in bone density. Just make sure your child is moving around regularly, keeping his or her head up, and crawling or walking. These activities all contribute to making bones healthier and babies happier.
- Greer F, Krebs N, Committee on Nutrition. Calcium Requirements of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2).
- Prentice A, Schoenmakers I, Laskey M, de Bono S, Ginty F, Goldberg G. Symposium on ‘Nutrition and health in children and adolescents’ Session 1: Nutrition in growth and development. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006;65(4): 348-360.
- Golden N, Abrams S, Committee on Nutrition. Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014;134(4).