6 Protein Rich Foods To Build Stronger Bones

Published: August 12, 2022

Protein

What is Protein and why is it important?| Health benefits of Protein for bone health| Protein-rich foods for building healthy bones| Takeaways

When you read up on bone health, you’ll hear a lot about getting in essential minerals like calcium and magnesium, but a nutrient that often falls through the cracks when discussing optimal bone performance is protein. 

Protein not only acts as direct support for bone structure, but it’s also crucial for the absorption of calcium. In fact, research shows that adequate protein intake is vital for bone mineral density, and when protein intake is too low, calcium is rendered useless when it comes to strengthening bones[16]. 

In this article, we’ll highlight why protein is so vital for bone health and some protein rich foods to maximize your protein intake.

What Is Protein And Why Is It Important?

Protein is crucial for the growth, maintenance, and repair of your body. In fact, amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are also known as the “building blocks of life.”

Why?

Because protein makes up an essential component of every cell in your body, while also playing a role in the structure and function of cartilage, muscles, bones, skin, and even your hair and nails [1]. 

Along with growth, maintenance, and repair, protein is also involved in several other biological processes, including [2]: 

  • Biochemical reactions
  • Signaling messages between cells
  • Maintaining your body’s pH
  • Balancing the fluids in your body
  • Supports immune health
  • And more

As one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and fat), protein plays a significant role in your diet. As you might imagine, getting enough of this nutrient is important for overall health due to the above-mentioned benefits – along with its vital role in bone health. 

It’s also important to note that there are nine amino acids that must be consumed in the diet because your body is unable to synthesize them on its own. These are referred to as the essential amino acids.

Stronger together

Health Benefits Of Protein For Bone Health

Protein makes up roughly 50% of the volume of bone and about one-third of its mass. This is due to protein’s involvement in the matrix of your bone tissue, which provides your bones with both strength and function [3][4].

However, aside from its structural integration into your bones, protein also plays several other functions contributing to bone health.

For example, research shows that getting adequate dietary protein is vital for the proper function of the hormone IGF-1. IGF-1, also known as insulin-like growth factor 1, is involved in both the growth of your bones as well as your bone density [5]. 

Dietary protein is also involved in calcium absorption in your gut. Calcium is well-known for its importance in bone health, especially when it comes to bone mineral density [6].

And finally, adequate protein intake is vital for the maintenance of muscle mass. The health of your bones is directly related to the amount of muscle you have on your body due to the mechanical force that muscle tissue puts on the bone. The more force, the more the bone is stimulated to strengthen itself [7]. 

Furthermore, since blood flows to the limbs in proportion to muscle mass, it’s believed that more muscle might improve bone strength due to a higher nutrient supply to the area [8].  

Truly, no matter which way you look at it, it’s clear that dietary protein is an essential component of healthy bones.

Protein-Rich Foods For Building Healthy Bones

1. Eggs

Eggs are known as the “perfect protein” because they not only contain a significant amount of protein (about 7 grams per egg), but they also include all of the essential amino acids in amounts that are ideal for your body to utilize. 

Eggs

In fact, there is a term known as “biological value,” which indicates the quality of protein in specific foods. Protein quality ultimately comes down to the amount of protein and the specific amino acids contained in the protein. When researchers assess the protein quality in food, they often use eggs as the comparison because the biological value of eggs is 100 – a perfect score [9].

2. Beef and Chicken

This category could really include all meat products, as any animal protein will come naturally packed with all of the essential amino acids (although not necessarily in the ideal proportions like our friend the egg).

steak

What makes animal protein so beneficial is its bioavailability. Bioavailability is a term that’s used to describe how readily a nutrient is digested, absorbed, and utilized by the body. 

Unlike protein that comes from plants, which is often encased in nutrients that might diminish amino acid absorption, animal protein is readily absorbed and assimilated [10]. 

Tip: bone-in meat tends to provide more micronutrients, so go for items like chicken wings or bone-in steak.

3. Fish

Fish is not only a fantastic source of protein (much like meat), but it also comes with vitamin D – an essential nutrient for bone health. Specifically, vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium, which, as you know, is vital for bone mineral density.

salmon

Fish is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids out there. Omega-3s come with a host of health benefits, and among them is improved bone quality. Specifically, research shows that omega-3s can help to prevent bone decay and support bone mineralization. What’s more, it appears that omega-3s may interfere with pathological calcification in areas of the body, like the heart, and within cancer cells. 

In other words, omega-3s help to direct calcium where it belongs (your bones) and away from potentially dangerous deposition sites [15]. 
The best types of fish for getting some extra vitamin D and omega-3s in your diet are fatty fish like salmon and tuna [11].

4. Cottage Cheese

Dairy products are notoriously high in calcium, but cottage cheese also packs a fantastic protein punch with 25 grams of protein per 1 cup serving.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese also makes a great base to throw other nutrient-rich foods on, like pumpkin seeds and cashews – both of which are high in magnesium and zinc (two nutrients that support bone health) [12][13].

5. Lentils

For all the vegans out there, don’t despair – we have a terrific protein source for you as well. 
Lentils are rich in a number of bone-healthy nutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. They also happen to be one of the best vegan protein sources, with about 24 grams of protein per ½ cup [14].

Lentils

The one drawback to vegan protein sources is that they tend to have “anti-nutrient” compounds such as phytates, making it harder for your body to digest and absorb some minerals. When it comes to legumes, however, lentils tend to have lower amounts of anti-nutrients, making them an excellent choice for non-meat eaters. 

With that being said, it’s always a good practice to either buy sprouted lentils or soak your lentils overnight – both methods will reduce the Phytate content and enhance your body’s ability to absorb those essential minerals your bones are hungry for. 

6. Type 1 Collagen

This list would not be complete without mentioning collagen, specifically type 1 collagen. 

Remember how protein makes up about 50% of your bone matrix? Well, the vast majority of that comes from collagen. It also plays a crucial role in the integrity of your connective tissues, which directly impacts bone health and function. 
Furthermore, research shows that taking collagen supplements can significantly improve bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women. In one study, participants showed a 7.7% increase in BMD in the neck and a 4.2% increase in the spine after 12 months of collagen supplementation [17].

Broth

Although you may not see collagen sitting in your grocer’s refrigerator, there are plenty of sources of collagen out there these days. If you want to go the whole foods route, the best source of collagen is bone broth. 

However, today many companies are also offering collagen supplements in either pills, powders, or liquid forms.

The Takeaway

Consuming a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, whole food diet should be the overall goal when it comes to bone health. However, the role of protein in the health and maintenance of your bones can’t be understated

This nutrient not only provides structure to your bones, but it’s involved in several biological processes that are vital for bone growth, development, and repair. 

Ensuring you consume adequate protein rich foods means prioritizing this nutrient in each of your meals. That means you may have to skip that morning muffin in favor of a protein-rich omelet. It’s typically easier to add protein to lunch or dinner, but consistently getting enough throughout the day will yield much better results. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is not so much the type of protein you consume, but rather that you just make sure to consume it at all. Put another way, if none of the items on this list appeal to you, that’s no problem – just be sure to find protein-rich foods that excite you and make sure to incorporate them into your diet frequently. 

The best type of protein is the one you’ll eat.

References

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002467.htm#:~:text=Every%20cell%20in%20the%20human,%2C%20teens%2C%20and%20pregnant%20women
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/howgeneswork/protein/
  3. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9jSLEkFaYqYC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=wGoxS5cGvD&sig=XwipcBBXebtk0WkoWTeI1tCsb5w#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. Heaney, Robert P., and Donald K. Layman. “Amount and type of protein influences bone health.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 87.5 (2008): 1567S-1570S.
  5. Ekbote, Veena H., et al. “Relationship of insulin-like growth factor 1 and bone parameters in 7–15 years old apparently, healthy Indian children.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 19.6 (2015): 770.
  6. Mangano, Kelsey M., Shivani Sahni, and Jane E. Kerstetter. “Dietary protein is beneficial to bone health under conditions of adequate calcium intake: an update on clinical research.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care 17.1 (2014): 69.
  7. Lang, Thomas F. “The bone-muscle relationship in men and women.” Journal of osteoporosis 2011 (2011).
  8. Kaji, Hiroshi. “Interaction between muscle and bone.” Journal of bone metabolism 21.1 (2014): 29-40.
  9. Hoffman, Jay R., and Michael J. Falvo. “Protein–which is best?.” Journal of sports science & medicine 3.3 (2004): 118.
  10. Berrazaga, Insaf, et al. “The role of the anabolic properties of plant-versus animal-based protein sources in supporting muscle mass maintenance: a critical review.” Nutrients 11.8 (2019): 1825.
  11. Lu, Z., et al. “An evaluation of the vitamin D3 content in fish: Is the vitamin D content adequate to satisfy the dietary requirement for vitamin D?.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 103.3-5 (2007): 642-644.
  12. O’Connor, J. Patrick, et al. “Zinc as a therapeutic agent in bone regeneration.” Materials 13.10 (2020): 2211.
  13. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  14. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172420/nutrients
  15. Sharma, Tanu, and Chandi C. Mandal. “Omega‐3 fatty acids in pathological calcification and bone health.” Journal of Food Biochemistry 44.8 (2020): e13333.
  16. Heaney, Robert P. “Effects of protein on the calcium economy.” International Congress Series. Vol. 1297. Elsevier, 2007.
  17. König, Daniel, et al. “Specific collagen peptides improve bone mineral density and bone markers in postmenopausal women—a randomized controlled study.” Nutrients 10.1 (2018): 97.

Article Comments

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  1. Alicia Forsman

    August 26, 2022 , 12:02 pm

    Thank you!

  2. Kirby Johnson

    August 29, 2022 , 3:33 pm

    Alicia,

    You’re so welcome! And you can always find more bone-health information on our BLOG. Don’t hesitate to give us a shout if you ever have questions <3

    - Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  3. Debbie Glen

    September 3, 2022 , 6:31 am

    Would Algaecal ever consider developing a safe collagen 1 product? So many collagens are contaminated with lead and other heavy metals that it is very hard to know which one would be truly safe to take.

  4. Chelsea Dugas

    September 7, 2022 , 8:43 am

    Thanks for reaching out, Debbie!
    This is an excellent question and at the moment, there is no collagen supplement in development. That said, I will be sure to forward your thoughtful suggestion to our feedback team for serious consideration. It’s a great idea! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  5. Joanne Reilly

    September 3, 2022 , 7:01 am

    I d like a good recipe for making my own bone broth from chicken and how to use it for bone health.

  6. Chelsea Dugas

    September 6, 2022 , 1:41 pm

    We’ve got you covered, Joanne! HERE is the link to our article on bone broth – it includes a standard recipe and lots of useful information! Hope this helps!

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  7. Corinne Cumming

    September 3, 2022 , 7:47 am

    So how many grMs/ day is ideal for a 75 year old?

  8. Chelsea Dugas

    September 7, 2022 , 8:50 am

    Great question, Corinne! There are a few factors that come into play when calculating protein needs, including weight, age, and activity level. Keeping that in mind, generally speaking, recent research recommends that older adults consume 1–1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight. We have a wonderful article HERE if you are looking for a deeper understanding of how to calculate your protein requirements. Hope this answers your questions! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  9. Terry Young

    September 3, 2022 , 7:53 am

    Thank you for a very informative article that I am going to pass on to several friends. I recently began using a collagen powder supplement, so I was glad to see that included in this article.

  10. Chelsea Dugas

    September 6, 2022 , 1:47 pm

    We’re so happy to know you benefitted from this article, Terry! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  11. Lisa

    September 3, 2022 , 8:01 am

    Looks like you’re promoting heart disease. No mention of soy, pea protein, legumes other than lentils, quinoa.

  12. Chelsea Dugas

    September 7, 2022 , 8:56 am

    Sorry if this was the impression you received, Lisa. THIS article covers the various reasons we perhaps didn’t include all the vegan options as optimal protein sources for people concerned about their bone health. Hope this helps to clarify!

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  13. Keith Beppler

    September 3, 2022 , 9:22 am

    I am vegan and want to know what you think about getting the right protein through plant based products.

  14. Chelsea Dugas

    September 7, 2022 , 10:55 am

    Great question, Keith! There are definitely a variety of plant-based proteins available on the market to choose from, many of them being viable options! Though we do not have an article discussing this topic directly at the moment, we do have THIS one that discusses various aspects of the importance of protein for bone health, including calculating your daily requirements. Hope this helps! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  15. Dawn Holey

    September 3, 2022 , 10:16 am

    How much protein is recommended?

  16. Chelsea Dugas

    September 7, 2022 , 11:30 am

    Hi there, Dawn! When calculating daily protein requirements, we have to take various factors into consideration, including age, weight, and activity level. For more information on how to calculate this, you can head over to THIS handy article. Hope this helps! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  17. Kathe Kelly

    September 3, 2022 , 10:40 am

    Good well written article. The information was easy to understand. Thanks

  18. Chelsea Dugas

    September 6, 2022 , 1:53 pm

    You’re welcome, Kathe! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  19. Bonnie Van Dyke

    September 3, 2022 , 11:58 am

    Thank you so much for this information and for organizing it in such a logical way. What to eat can be very confusing with so many choices and so many ads for food. 😊

  20. Chelsea Dugas

    September 6, 2022 , 1:54 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Bonnie! It can get very confusing. Happy to know you found this useful! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  21. Rebecca Phillips

    September 3, 2022 , 5:07 pm

    Thank you so much for the research and information you provide to so many. Your information is critical to help people understand the importance of getting the best food sources and boost our confidence to choosing good foods and supplements. It is very easy to read and helpful to guide people toward healthy goals.

  22. Chelsea Dugas

    September 6, 2022 , 1:52 pm

    So happy to hear this, Rebecca! You’re very welcome. 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  23. Lynn M Studer

    September 3, 2022 , 9:35 pm

    I have high cholesterol, so altho I love eggs, I avoid eating them since they do drive my numbers up.
    Is the egg protein bio-available if I only eat the whites? What would be your advice?

    Also, I had written saying my DEXA looked like my bones were not responding to AlgaeCal/Strontium but after consulting with my naturopath, she made it clear I was mistaken & they have stabilized and actually gained a little bit. Thank you!

  24. Chelsea Dugas

    September 8, 2022 , 8:20 am

    Great question, Lynn! Studies show that the majority of protein is found in the egg white, and it is most digestible when it is cooked, with or without the yolk. The egg yolk is where we find almost all of the nutrition: vitamins B, E, and D, as well as iron, zinc, and choline. In this situation, Lynn, it is probably best to listen to what your body can handle as we are all unique! If eating the yolk drives your cholesterol up, then perhaps it is better to just eat the whites and be sure to eat plenty of other nutrient-dense foods. Hope this helps, and we’re so happy to know that your bone density is on the rise! Congrats! 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  25. Beverly Northeast

    September 5, 2022 , 10:50 am

    Question
    Is Hydrolyzed Fish Collagen something that will help with my done density ?

    Is there any truth that Strontium can cause cancer and or will increase my chances of getting cancer??

  26. Carey Middlebrooks

    September 20, 2022 , 1:58 pm

    Can I pause my supplement delivery? I need to catch up before any more deliveries please

  27. Chelsea Dugas

    September 21, 2022 , 1:41 pm

    You absolutely can, Carey! For assistance with this, please call our Bone Health Consultants 7 days a week at 1-877-707-9226 (USA & Canada, toll-free) or email [email protected]. 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

This article features advice from our industry experts to give you the best possible info through cutting-edge research.

Prof. Didier Hans
PHD, MBA - Head of Research & Development Center of Bone Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital CHUV, Switzerland,
Lara Pizzorno
MDiv, MA, LMT - Best-selling author of Healthy Bones Healthy You! and Your Bones; Editor of Longevity Medicine Review, and Senior Medical Editor for Integrative Medicine Advisors.,
Dr. Liz Lipski
PhD, CNS, FACN, IFMP, BCHN, LDN - Professor and Director of Academic Development, Nutrition programs in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health.,
Dr. Loren Fishman
MD, B.Phil.,(oxon.) - Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Founder of the Yoga Injury Prevention Website.,
Dr. Carole McArthur
MD, PhD - Professor of Immunology, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City; Director of Residency Research in Pathology, Truman Medical Center.,