What You Should Be Eating If You're Healing From A Broken Bone, According To Nutritionists

Feed and nourish your body while you heal from an injury with these expert-backed tips.

August 9, 2017
woman with broken arm thumbs up
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Healing from a broken bone is the opposite of fun. Everything seems a little bit (OK, or a lot) more difficult and your everyday life is disrupted, including your eating and cooking habits. 

But fret not, there’s no need to drown in a sea of takeout and frozen entrees. Even with a limited ability to navigate your kitchen, you can still load up on the vitamins and nutrients to help your bones repair and heal while the rest of your bod is on the mend, too. 

“When people break bones, they heal with certain nutrients, but in general, the things you’d do normally to maintain bone health are the same to help during a break,” explained Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN Registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Bones are stores of calcium, and since bones are our structure, our skeleton, they also serve as a function. When we dip into our stores of calcium, that’s fine, but it also can compromise our structural integrity. When you’re young, especially under 20, you can build as much bone as possible, and then when our body starts using bone as it needs it, [it’s good to] minimize that use as much as you can.”

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Load up on calcium-rich foods

As Maples stressed, an increased calcium intake is important when repairing a broken bone, but she cautions not to rely on supplements to aid in the process. She added, “Calcium supplements don’t provide the other nutrients needed for bone health—to me, supplements are just supplemental to a healthy diet, they’re not meant to be a main source. Those supplements sometimes have vitamin D to help with the absorption of calcium, but you get more nutrients from food. Like protein from milk, or vitamin K from dark leafy greens. You look to food to supply those extra nutrients so you’re getting a balance.”

Related: Why Grass-Fed Dairy Is Better For You—And How To Avoid The Fake Stuff

Maples encouraged three servings of calcium-rich foods—ideally dairy—every day. But for vegans or lactose-free patients, she recommends a cup of soy milk to count as a single dairy serving. Alternately, she says, calcium-fortified orange juice is also a good vitamin-rich option. The key nutrients for bone repair, said Maples, include: calcium for bone strength; protein for structure and bone matrix; vitamin D to help absorb more calcium if calcium is low; magnesium for strength; vitamin K and vitamin C for wound repair, collagen; and phosphorus. 

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bone broth soup
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Eat for healing

If your doctor prescribed pain medications for those initial weeks, your stomach might not be able to handle a full meal, let alone cooking one. In those instances, stock your fridge with pre-prepped ingredients for simple, nutritious sippers. “A healing and easy-digestible food would be a smoothie containing kale (calcium), avocado (magnesium) and ground flax (omega 3’s),” said Joy McCarthy, founder of Joyous Health and Certified Holistic Nutritionist, who also nodded to her recipe for Green Pineapple Smoothie Popsicles—a make ahead nutrient-rich treat for those on recovery road. She continued, “[Smoothies] are a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into a meal quickly and easily, without requiring you to be on your feet, hovering over a stove for too long.” (Here are the only 4 smoothie recipes you'll ever need.) 

Also, if you’re able to call in some kitchen support or send a friend to the supermarket, bone broth might be the answer you’re looking for. “It’s another excellent superfood to add in repairing of any kind,” explained McCarthy. “Bone broth contains very easily digested amino acids and minerals that help the body repair. However, it is certainly time-consuming. Fortunately there are some good brands at health food stores that are certified organic. While they may be costly, if it’s for the short term to help facilitate healing, it’s worth it.”

Related: I Swapped My Coffee For A Daily Cup Of Bone Broth—Here's What Happened

salmon meal
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Make your calories count

Following an initial recovery period when activity is understandably extremely low, Maples said calorie requirements might need a readjustment. “An injury could up calorie needs by 15-20 percent," she said. Additionally, Maples added, you should be conscious of those extra calories—filling them with the bone-healing nutrition your body is currently craving, and not the junk food that might seem soothing at the time. 

McCarthy agreed, adding that your diet doesn’t have to become dull now that you’re in recovery mode. “Great sources of calcium include sesame seeds or tahini, chia seeds, hemp seeds, beans—navy, pinto or chickpeas—and dark leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard,” she said. “Sheep and goat dairy products are more easily tolerated [if you have a sensitivity to dairy], especially when fermented, as is yogurt and kefir. And vitamin D containing foods include sardines, salmon, eggs, mushrooms and of course, the best source of all, the sun!” (Here's more on how to get a healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun, safely.)

She recommends remembering to add plant-based or organic grass-fed protein to fill up on meals. “Protein is essential to rebuild tissue that has been lost,” McCarthy said. “Strive to have an adequate amount of plant-based or animal protein at each meal, whether it’s wild caught salmon, ½ cup chickpeas, or an organic chicken burger.” 

“Here’s a time when you should be considering the most nutritious [way] you can eat,” Maples continued. “Pick foods that are basic and not overly processed so they have more nutrients per bite. Healing a bone is not a time to be calorie counting, but you want to make those calories count. Reach for foods like lean meats and nuts and whole grains and tell yourself, ‘I’m not in my regular routine. I’m replacing my reserves and giving my body what it needs to heal that bone.’”

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