Cara’s Personal Bone-Building Plan

Cara’s Personal Bone-Building Plan

I recently had my first DEXA scan to measure my bone density. Guess what? I have mild osteopenia. Age appropriate yet not worrisome. Briefly, DEXA is short for Dual X-ray Absorptiometry, which is used to Measure Bone Health. Currently is the only way to know for sure if you have osteoporosis. 

Having said that, I have seized the opportunity to up my calcium game. I don’t eat much dairy as it’s inflammatory for me and causes my joints to hurt.

Taking calcium supplements isn’t the best choice either. Recent studies show that post-menopause, most calcium in supplements is problematic. There’s evidence to suggest that it may increase the risk of heart attack[1]. Furthermore, a calcium supplements may not prevent fractures. In our practice we often recommend a calcium with ipraflavone, an isoflavone shown to inhibit the breakdown of bone, thus preventing, or reversing osteoporosis[2]

As for me, I decided to make a game of eating more non-dairy foods that are high in calcium. Fortunately, it’s possible to meet your RDA for calcium through diet alone. I’ve always told my patients “Dairy is just vegetables that went through a cow.” Further, plant sources have a better ratio of calcium to magnesium. Calcium helps to build strong bones, but magnesium helps build flexible bones that are less likely to break. 

Plus- it had to be delicious food I love and will eat on a regular basis. 

I don’t have certain risks that interfere with calcium absorption; I’m not taking any medication that interferes with calcium absorption, such as PPI’s or steroids that can result in bone thinning, such as steroids. Calcium needs vary based on age. Here’s the standard recommendations from the Mayo Clinic website[3]. Men are also at risk, especially if they’ve taken these medications or have hormonal imbalances[4].

Here’s a chart of the standard recommended amounts of calcium to be consumed daily: 

MenDaily RDADaily upper limit
WomenDaily RDADaily upper limit
19-50 years1,000 mg2,500 mg
51-70 years1,000 mg2,000 mg
71 and older1,200 mg2,000 mg
19-50 years1,000 mg2,500 mg
51 and older1,200 mg2,000 mg

So, for a post-menopausal woman like me, it’s generally recommended to consume about 1200 mgs daily of calcium. For comparative purposes, a glass of whole milk has 276 mgs.

For most of my life I’ve exercised and lifted weights. But I have seen time and time again, my patients who continue to lose bone mass as they age. This is a serious health risk, as falls can result in hip breakage, which can be fatal. Jane Brody recently reported on this in the NY Times.[5] Observing my elderly patients has increased my personal commitment to strength training, if only to prevent falls as I age.

Here’s what I started eating more of:


  • Especially my favorites: Watercress and dandelion. Watercress has 41 mgs of calcium in a cup and dandelion has 103 mgs! And yum! 
  • Other veggies too: collards, kale and most cooked cruciferous veggies are decent sources of calcium.


  • Did you know that Tahini, made from sesame seeds contains 63 mgs of calciumin one tablespoon. If you haven’t yet made the tahini sauce from the Zahav Cookbook, don’t wait another minute. It’s delicious on everything. 
  • Almonds contain 74 mgs of calcium in an ounce 
  • Chia seeds were a surprise powerhouse with 177 mgs in 1 oz (28 grams). That’s about 2 tablespoons.


  • My longtime favorite Hijiki is a winner: 1/3 of an ounce contains 100 mgs of calcium. Check out my blogon seaweeds and the Pinterest board that I created with nice recipes to inspire you to try them! 


  • Not only are they filled with healthy fats, but a can of sardines with the bone-in contains 382 mgs of calcium. That’s a third of your day’s requirements. I’ve been eating them for breakfast.
  • Canned salmon, with the bone in contains about 200 mgs for 3 oz. This makes a great lunch on salad or whole grain bread. 


  • White beans have 132 mgs per cup! Other beans, especially chick-peas are reliable sources of calcium too. 


  • Beets don’t contain calcium, but they are rich in silica, a trace mineral found in bones, teeth, skin, eyes, and organs. The exact role that silica plays in bone health isn’t fully understood, but we know it supports the structural parts of the body. It’s also one of the constituents of collagen, which helps keep skin elastic. The herb horsetail is rich in silica. Oddly, iceberg lettuce is a decent source as well, so now you can eat it guilt free.


  • Oh- this is perhaps my favorite nutritional tip of all!! I don’t use much but knowing that one tablespoon has 20 mgs of calcium- (more than milk at about 18 mgs!) makes this practically guilt free! 

I’m drinking my calcium too:

  • But not milk! I’m drinking oat straw and nettle tea. A strong oat straw infusion contains up to 300 mgs of calcium per cup as well as generous serving of B vitamins and other trace minerals important for bone health. Nettles can contain up to 200 mgs in a cup. These ratios are for long infusions: You just put a handful in a pot, let it steep and then forget about it. It’s strong. The taste is grassy and pleasant, and I’m drinking it as part of my daily water intake.

I added a natural progesterone:

  • We’ve long known that estrogen helps prevent bone loss. This is called osteoclastosis. What you may not know is that progesterone can stimulate bone growth. This is called osteoblastosis. I use a natural wild yam cream on my skin at night. 

HITT workouts

  • Bones stay strong when they are challenged. Most weight bearing exercises, including walking help build bones. I added a workout that involves jumping, although I modify it, so I don’t injure myself. 

Vitamin D

  • Without Vitamin D, our bodies cannot effectively absorb calcium, which is essential to good bone health. Vitamin D is really considered not a vitamin. Vitamins are special nutrients that the body needs but cannot make, so they must be obtained from what we eat or by supplements. Because our bodies can make Vitamin D in our skin when it is exposed to good sunlight, Vitamin D is considered a hormone. This vitamin regulates hormones and immunity, so, especially in our area, where sunlight is limited in the winter, it’s important to supplement with it. I take between 2000-5000 iu’s daily. 

What does chinese medicine have to say about bone health?

We have numerous herbs that are used for weakened bones as well as several used to help mend bones. In Chinese medicine, the bones are ruled by the kidneys. They also rule the back and knees and so we call upon kidney tonics to strengthen our backs and knees. 

Many traditional herbs, such as licorice root, fresh ginger, dandelion root, fresh oyster shell, white peony root, and cinnamon bark, are used to help patients with osteoporosis and other bone diseases. 

A review of randomized tests indicates that herbal medicine showed similar pharmacological effects between Chinese herbs and standard anti-osteoporotic drugs in the regulation of bone turnover[8].

Also, certain acupuncture points work towards building calcitonin – the hormone responsible for decalcification of bone. Research done at the Chengdu University has proven the positive effects of acupuncture for increasing bone metabolism. 

And there you have it. My personal bone preservation plan. I hope this helps get you started! 

Check out the Pinterest boardI created with recipes and ideas to add yummy, calcium rich, bone-building foods to your diet. 

Cara Frank, L.OM. was raised by in a health food store in Brooklyn NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

For over 30 years, she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine.

At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20 she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.

Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia. She is the president of China Herb Company, and she is an adjunct faculty member of the Department of Chinese Herbology at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. You can read her bio or schedule an appointment.




[4]Efficacy of ipraflavone in established osteoporosis and long-term safety. Agnusdei D1, Bufalino