The Thanksgiving Feast: 10 Bone-Friendly Foods

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Ah, Thanksgiving – a day to relax with friends and family, maybe catch a little football or the Macy’s Parade, perhaps plan your Black Friday shopping trip… and definitely a day to feast.

    Whether or not you’re currently dealing with osteoporosis or osteopenia, it’s always good to keep bone health in mind; and a major way to help maintain bone density as you age is to eat right.

    We all know that foods high in calcium and vitamin D should be a regular part of your diet. But fewer of us know that protein, vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin B12, and potassium are also smaller but critical players in the ideal bone-healthy diet.

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    Thankfully, there are a number of typical Thanksgiving foods that include one or more of these bone-friendly nutrients. While one day does not a healthy diet make – hey, if you have your choice between cooking or eating something that won’t help your bones, and something that will, why not choose the bone-builder?

    Check out these top-10 bone-friendly foods to enjoy Thanksgiving Day:

    1) Calcium-fortified orange juice and cereal. Lay the foundation for the rest of the day with a calcium-rich breakfast. It’s easy; simply choose juice and cereal that are fortified with calcium. Adding skim milk to your cereal is an added bonus.

    2) While waiting for the feast to begin, nibble on nuts and dark chocolate. Nuts, especially almonds, are a great source of magnesium. Two ounces of nuts covers about half your RDA for this critical mineral, which helps your body absorb calcium, AND keeps bones from becoming brittle.

    3) Another great pre-dinner snack: pumpkin seeds. Roasted and lightly salted, these tasty little seeds are a protein powerhouse, with more protein, ounce for ounce, than most meats.

    Your bones are 22% protein, and it’s a key element in bone remodeling (the constant cycle of breakdown and rebuilding). Most of us don’t have any problem getting more than enough daily protein; but if you’re a vegetarian/vegan, keep pumpkin seeds in mind.

    4) Now, on to the main course: turkey. Not only is turkey breast packed with protein (4 ounces covers half your RDA), it’s also a good source of lysine, which helps with calcium absorption.

    You may love leg or thigh meat, but keep in mind, turkey breast (white meat) without the skin is by far your healthiest choice.

    5) Brussels sprouts are one of the best dietary sources for vitamin K, which helps with protein absorption; blocks the formation of bone-destroying osteoclasts, and has been shown to reduce the risk of fractures in post-menopausal women.

    Don’t like Brussels sprouts? That’s because you’ve always had them boiled. B-O-R-I-N-G. Toss sprouts with olive oil and salt, place in a single layer in a shallow pan, and roast in the oven (along with the turkey, if there’s room). Slightly crunchy, golden Brussels sprouts are a far cry from the limp, gray-green veggie you’ve always disliked.

    Other great sources of vitamin K: peas, carrots, and broccoli. Load up on any of these vegetables.

  • 6) If you had to name the top bone-healthy Thanksgiving vegetable, it might very well be creamed spinach. Spinach alone earns top marks in calcium, vitamin K, and potassium. Adding calcium-rich milk, cream, and/or cheese takes it over the top.

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    7) Here’s a sleeper: leeks. One of these onion-like vegetables (they look like overgrown scallions) offers more than half your RDA for vitamin K. Substitute leeks for onions in stuffing; serve with green peas; or cream them, as you would pearl onions. 

    8) Don’t forget green beans. They’re high in both vitamin K and potassium, which helps regulate blood-acid levels. Too much acid in your blood causes bones to shed calcium; potassium helps prevent that.

    The signature green bean casserole, with its French-fried onion topping, is a Thanksgiving favorite. But a much healthier choice would be sautéed or steamed green beans with bone-healthy slivered or sliced almonds.

    9) And what about the Thanksgiving bread basket? Soft white dinner rolls, cranberry muffins, cornbread… Whole-grain rolls earn top marks for magnesium; and their fiber, while not critical to bone health, is a boon to your digestion. Also, sweet potato rolls, especially the whole-wheat variety, are high in potassium.

    With the advent of white whole wheat (a milder, lighter-colored whole wheat), whole-grain breads and rolls are a lot more acceptable to a much wider audience than in they used to be. If you’re not a baker, check your supermarket for whole-wheat rolls made with white whole wheat. If you ARE a baker, check out my yummy recipe for homemade honey-wheat rolls.

    10) At last – dessert! As mentioned above, sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium. So, what dessert should you bake for this year’s feast? Sweet potato pie, of course. This creamy, bright-orange pie is a standard on many people’s Thanksgiving tables.

    Still, if you just can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, don’t despair; pumpkin is another vegetable that’s high in potassium. Though not quite as high as sweet potato, it still qualifies as a potassium-rich food.

    So, quite a lineup, eh? Pick and choose from the list above, and you’ll enjoy a Thanksgiving feast that’s both tasty, and bone-healthy.

    P.S. If you like a couple of beers with the football game, or a glass of wine with dinner, go for it. Studies have shown that two beers a day (for men) and a daily glass of wine (for post-menopausal women) help build bone.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


Published On: November 22, 2010