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The top foods for healthy bones and muscles

What foods provide key nutrients for healthy bones and muscles? This article looks at sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein.
A platter representing all the food groups
© University of Liverpool/The University of Sheffield/Newcastle University

In this article, we’ll look at the foods you can eat for healthy bone and muscles.

We’ll be looking at the typical nutrient content of a range of different foods and have provided this information in tables. This is a lot to take in at once so we’ve also provided this information as a PDF which you can download from the bottom of the page for later reference.


Good sources of calcium include:

  • Milk, cheese and other dairy foods including cheese, yoghurt and ice cream
  • Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and okra (but not spinach)
  • Soya beans, tofu and soya drinks with added calcium
  • Nuts
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • Fish where you eat the bones – such as sardines and pilchards.

Many cereal products in the UK are fortified with calcium carbonate. The Bread and Flour Regulations require that, subject to certain exceptions, calcium carbonate must be added to all wheat flour, whether or not mixed with other flour, for fortification. Calcium carbonate does not need to be added to self-raising flour which has a calcium content of not less than 0.2%, to wholemeal flour or to wheat malt flour.

The table below shows how much calcium is in a typical portion of a selection of foods that are good sources of calcium (mg = milligram = 1 thousandth of a gram). They are listed in descending order by the amount of calcium in a typical portion (highlighted column), and you can also compare how much calcium is in a standard amount (mg/100 g) of the foods.

Food Calcium (mg/100g) Typical portion (g or ml) Calcium per portion (mg) Calcium % of adult daily requirement
Sardines, canned in brine & drained 679 50g 340 49%
Cheddar cheese 739 30g 222 32%
Soya non-dairy alternative to milk, unsweetened, fortified 120 200ml 240 34%
Cow’s milk, Semi-skimmed 120 200ml 240 33%
Cheese, feta 360 40g 144 21%
Curly kale, boiled 150 80g 120 17%
Porridge, oats made with skimmed milk 117 100g 117 17%
Pink salmon, canned in brine, drained 109 106g 116 17%
Sesame seeds 670 12g 80 11%
Herring, grilled 79 100g 79 11%
Bread, white, sliced 88 50g 44 6%
Eggs, boiled (from chicken) 46 60g 28 4%
Beans, red kidney, dried, boiled in unsalted water 37 35g 13 2%
Cod liver oil 0 3g 0 0%

Vitamin D

Good food sources of vitamin D are:

  • Oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals

In the UK, cows’ milk is generally not a good source of vitamin D because it isn’t fortified, as it is in some other countries. A number of yoghurt products are available fortified with vitamin D.

The table below shows a selection of foods that can provide 10% or more of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D from the diet. The first column shows the food, the second how much vitamin D is found in a standard amount of the food (100 g), the third shows a typical portion size in grams, the fourth shows the amount of vitamin D in a typical portion, and the fifth shows the percentage of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D for a healthy adult that is found in a typical portion.

Food Vitamin D (mcg/100g) Typical portion (g or ml) Vitamin D per portion (mcg) % of the adult daily requirement
Herring, grilled 16.1 100g 16.1 161%
Pink salmon, canned in brine, drained 13.6 100g 14.4 144%
Cod liver oil 210 3g 6.3 63%
Sardines, canned in sunflower oil, drained 3.6 90g 3.2 32%
Eggs, yolk, boiled (from chicken) 12.6 20g 2.5 25%
Eggs, boiled (from chicken) 3.2 60g 1.9 19%
Soya non-dairy alternative to milk, unsweetened, fortified 0.8 200ml 1.6 16%
Pork, chop, lean and fat 1.1 120g 1.3 13%
Cornflakes 4.7 25g 1.2 12%
Cheddar cheese 0.3 30g 0.1 1%
Beans, red kidney, dried, boiled in unsalted water 0 35g 0 0%
Curly kale, boiled 0 80g 0 0%

(mcg = micrograms = 1 millionth of a gram)


In the UK, about one-third of dietary protein comes from plant sources and the other two-thirds comes from animal sources. The protein content of nuts, dried peas, and beans are high and compares favourably with the protein content of meats. After soaking in water, the proportion of protein in dried peas and beans is reduced, but they still are an excellent source of protein.

While cereals contain less protein per 100 g than meats and beans, they are also a significant source of protein for many people in the world where they make up a large part of the diet. The table below shows the average protein content of selected uncooked foods.

Food Protein (g/100 g) Typical portion (g or ml) Protein per portion (g) % of the adult daily requirement
Turkey, breast, fillet, grilled, meat only 35 120g 42 84%
Chicken, breast, grilled without skin, meat only 32 120g 42 77%
Pork, chop, lean only 32 120g 42 76%
Pork, chop, lean and fat 29 120g 35 70%
Cod, baked 24 120g 35 70%
Beef, stewing steak, stewed, lean and fat 29 90g 26 53%
Lamb shoulder, diced & grilled, lean and fat 29 90g 26 51%
Pink salmon, canned in brine, drained 24 106g 25 50%
Sardines, canned in sunflower oil, drained 23 90g 21 42%
Herring, grilled 20 100g 20 40%
Quorn 14 120g 17 34%
Cheese, cheddar 25 40g 10 20%
Eggs, boiled (from chicken) 13 60g 7.6 15%
Cows milk, semi-skimmed 4 200ml 7.0 14%
Cheese, feta 16 40g 6.2 12%
Baked beans, reheated 5 100g 5.0 10%
Soya non-dairy alternative to milk, unsweetened, fortified 2 200ml 4.8 9.6%
Almonds 21 22g 4.6 9.3%
Porridge oats, made up with skimmed milk 5 100g 4.6 9.2%
Peas, frozen, boiled 6 70g 3.9 7.7%
Eggs, yolk, boiled (from chicken) 17 20g 3.3 6.7%
Beans, red kidney, dried, boiled in unsalted water 8 35g 2.9 5.9%
Sesame seeds 18 12g 2.2 4.4%
Bread, white, sliced 4 50g 2.0 4.0%
Curly kale, boiled 2 80g 1.9 3.8%
Cornflakes, fortified 7 25g 1.8 3.6%
Cod liver oil 0 3g 0 0.0%


© University of Liverpool/The University of Sheffield/Newcastle University
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