Which foods heal broken bones faster? I fractured a bone in my foot at a group tennis lesson a couple of weeks ago, and I’m willing to do anything to speed up the healing process! Nutrition plays an important role in fracture healing, and I’ve taken a deeper look at the research to discover which fracture healing foods are essential to include to heal broken bones quickly.
The Process of Fracture Healing
Fracture healing takes place in three phases: inflammation, reparation, and remodeling.
Stage 1: Inflammation
Immediately after the bone is fractured, blood flow increases to the area to bring in cytokines, which are signaling cells released by the immune system. Cytokines signal for repair cells to rush into the broken bone. These repair cells immediately get to work producing proteins that will build new bone tissue and cartilage.
Stage 2: Reparation (Repair)
The reparative stage starts about two weeks after the fracture happens. During this stage, the proteins produced by repair cells start to condense into soft callus. Soft callus is new soft bone that will continue to condense and harden for about 6 to 12 weeks.
Stage 3: Remodeling
This stage reminds me of HGTV and remodeling a home. The final stage of fracture healing is similar: your body is sprucing things up and making some improvements. If only it could happen in a half hour time slot! In the remodeling stage, soft callus matures and remodels itself into strong, fully healed bone.
The entire process of fracture healing requires lots of energy, blood flow, and protein synthesis, so nutrition is an important factor in fast fracture healing!
Nutrition for Fracture Healing
When you fracture a bone, you might think that the only thing you can do to heal is rest and wait – but that’s not necessarily the case. The fracture healing process brings with it increased nutritional needs, and giving your body proper nutrition for fracture healing can support speedy recovery. Here’s how you can meet your nutrition needs for healing bone fractures:
Eat Enough Calories
Now isn’t the time to diet. Any major injury increases your energy needs (a.k.a. calorie needs) because energy gets sent to the broken bone for healing. You’re probably not able to workout like you used to, depending on where your fracture is, but don’t let that tempt you to undereat. alorie So how many calories should you be eating to help your broken bone heal? Calorie needs vary greatly from person to person, so it’s always a great idea to talk with a dietitian about your specific needs. A good rule of thumb is to eat 25-30 calories per kilogram of body weight while you’re healing. To get your weight in kilograms, take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. (Example: so if you weight 150 lbs, you’ll need about 1,700 to 2,050 calories).
Eat More Protein
About half of your bone’s structure is made of protein. When you have a fracture, the resulting inflammatory response gathers protein building blocks to create new bone tissue. That’s why getting enough protein is essential for fracture healing. Protein deficiency has been shown to slow down fracture healing, while getting enough protein significantly improves bone formation and healing after a fracture.
Eating 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended for optimal bone health. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll need about 68 to 100 grams of protein daily.
Bone Healing Nutrients: Key Vitamins and Minerals for a Fracture
Calcium is probably the first nutrient you think of when it comes to building strong bones – and for good reason! Calcium is an essential component of bone, and high calcium levels are linked to high bone mineral density (which reduces your risk of fracture in the first place). Having enough calcium available in your blood is important during the reparative (repair) phase of fracture healing. The reason? That’s when new bone tissue gets woven together – and having more calcium included in that structure means stronger healed bone.
The National Osteoporosis Guideline Group recommends that adults get between 700 and 1,200 mg of calcium every day for strong bones. Several studies have found that the high end of that recommendation (1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium) is beneficial for fracture prevention and healing, so I’d suggest aiming for at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day for fracture healing.
Fracture healing foods: Foods high in calcium include dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, green veggies such as kale, spinach, and broccoli, and calcium-fortified products such as milk alternatives (think almond milk, soy milk and coconut beverage) and orange juice.
Vitamin D regulates your body’s calcium absorption, so getting enough vitamin D is essential for making calcium available for use in fracture healing and building new bone. Research on the effect of vitamin D supplementation on fracture healing is minimal but promising, and adequate vitamin D consumption is needed for improved bone health and fracture prevention.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 800 IU, while some research shows that 1,000 IU per day is beneficial for fracture prevention and healing. Your body produces vitamin D naturally from exposure to sunlight, but if you’ve fractured your foot like me, going for long walks in the sun probably isn’t an option.
Fracture healing foods: Vitamin D can be found in a few food sources: egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel, and fortified milk, yogurt, and orange juice.
It can be challenging to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Do you need a vitamin D supplement?
Vitamin C is necessary for building collagen, a primary component of bone. Because of this, getting enough vitamin C while your fracture heals is essential for rebuilding strong bones, and high doses of vitamin C have been shown to speed up the fracture healing process. Vitamin C also supports a healthy immune system, which is responsible for triggering the inflammation stage of fracture healing.
Fracture healing foods: Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C, particularly citrus fruit, strawberries, melon, kiwi, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Vitamin K helps bind calcium to bone, so it’s important for rebuilding healthy bone after fracture. Several studies have found that high levels of vitamin K are associated with a lower risk of fracture and improved bone strength. The recommended minimum intake of vitamin K is 120 mcg for men and 90 mcg for women, but getting more could be beneficial for preventing osteoporosis or accelerating bone fracture healing.
Fracture healing foods: You can find vitamin K in leafy greens and green vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, and broccoli.
Zinc is required for bone growth and maintenance of healthy bone because it stimulates osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) in the inflammation and reparative stages of fracture healing. The recommended daily intake of zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.
Fracture healing foods: Oysters are higher in zinc than any other food (just 3 oysters have a whopping 74 mg zinc!), but beef, shellfish, chicken, beans, nuts, and whole grains are also rich in zinc.
Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients for Fracture Healing
When a bone fracture occurs, the damaged tissues release free radicals, which cause oxidative damage and inflammation. While inflammation is a necessary step in fracture healing, the increased free radical circulation can overwhelm your body’s natural antioxidant defenses. Getting more anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants can bump up your body’s defenses against the inflammation and oxidative damage caused by fractures.
Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents found in fatty fish, chia, flax, and hemp seeds, and walnuts.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and lycopene are also helpful for reducing inflammation.
Vitamin E can be found in egg yolks, almonds, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds, while lycopene is found in some red-colored fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and tomato sauce, watermelon and guava.
Fracture Healing Foods Meal Plan
Wondering what to eat to heal a fracture? This fracture healing meal plan gives you a sample day of foods full of nutrients to heal a broken bone faster.
Plain Greek yogurt topped with strawberries, kiwi, walnuts, and chia seeds
Mediterranean kale and spinach salad with bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, grilled or roasted chicken, feta cheese, chickpeas, and vinaigrette dressing with whole wheat bread on the side
Hard boiled egg with an orange and a handful of almonds
Salmon and Broccoli baked with Lemon, Garlic, and Dijon with quinoa on the side
Have you ever fractured a bone? What did you find most helpful for healing quickly?