The Ultimate Guide to A Bone Healthy Christmas

Bone Healthy Living / December 20, 2017

Christmas candy canes, cinnamon

This holiday season, take time to celebrate what gives your life structure and stability — your 206 bones!

We got busy in the AlgaeCal Kitchen this week brainstorming our list of Festive Foods to Fight Osteoporosis.

These 19 menu items will tempt you to tackle your bone health issues head-on. They’re healthful entrées, sides, snacks and deceivingly-indulgent desserts to please even the pickiest palates.

Top foods that increase bone strength play a starring role in this list, of course. When eaten alone, these everyday superheroes give benefits. But when eaten together, their combined impact creates a potent bone-densifying feast!

When you make conscious eating choices during the holidays, you will feel happier, healthier and more vital. Why? Because building bone is just one of many benefits that this lifestyle provides.

Our Christmas credo: Do make healthy choices, but don’t even consider giving up flavor.

Your Bone Healthy Holiday Menu

Christmas dinner inforgraphic

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The following are 19 menu items for you to try this holiday season! Some are traditional favorites with a few healthful swaps, while others are completely new. Scroll to read through the entire menu or click on the items below to jump to that dish.

10 Festive Dinner Foods That Fight Osteoporosis

  1. Boast About Your Roast
  2. Look To The Sea for Alternative Proteins
  3. You-Can’t-Tell-It’s-Not-Potato Mash 
  4. Seasonal Salad with Omega Dressing
  5. Homemade Cranberry Sauce
  6. Savory Stuffing
  7. Good To The Bone Gravy
  8. Candy-Colored Yams
  9. Healthwise Green Bean Casserole
  10. Baked Bread with Herb Butter

3 Party-Pleasing Snacks for Healthy Bones

  1. Stuffed Dates and Figs
  2. Half and Half Nuts
  3. Homemade Tortilla Chip

Deck the Halls with 6 Desserts and Drinks

  1. Dark Chocolate
  2. Pumpkin Pie
  3. Festive Fruit Kebabs
  4. Mulled Wine
  5. Eggnog
  6. Hot Cocoa

10 Festive Dinner Foods That Fight Osteoporosis

The following dinner items provide a symphony of colorful, farm-fresh flavors to glorify your table. They include free-range roasts, calcium-rich cauliflower, and beans. They feature good-fat focused gravy, leafy greens that won’t be leftovers, and stuffing that can stand on its own. Best of all, they will help give new life to your bones by the New Year!

Boast About Your Roast

Splurge on certified organic or free-range turkey or beef that give you gloating rights.

Why bother? Your dinner guests will notice the intense flavor of these naturally-raised animals. They won’t miss the lack of antibiotics, hormones or pesticide residue. They are more healthful, with less saturated fat, and more conjugated linoleic acid and omega 3 fatty acids.

Of course, these meats are good sources of protein important for bone and muscle health. Turkey in particular, is also high in B vitamins (B2, B6, B12). These play a key role in preventing osteoporosis and fractures.

(Note: Organic or free-range pork/ham is difficult to find. And pigs are fed grain and soy meal unnatural to their forager diets, disrupting their omega 3-6 fat balance.)

Not a big meat eater?
baked salmon with herbs, tomatoes and asparagus

Look To The Sea for Alternative Proteins

Consider wild-caught salmon instead. My favorite is Chinook (also called King or Spring salmon) because it has more delicious omega fats in it! Stuffed and baked whole with lemon slices, dill and almonds, it offers “wow” factor as a table centerpiece. And it is super high in omega 3s and vitamin D, vital for bones.

You-Can’t-Tell-It’s-Not Potato Mash!

Replace traditional mashed potatoes with steamed, whipped cauliflower, and see if anyone notices!

How to Make:

  1. With a hand blender, whip lightly steamed cauliflower. (If you don’t have a steamer and decide to boil, make sure to strain the cauliflower before blending to get rid of any excess water)
  2. Add organic butter, dried (crushed) rosemary, garlic, Himalayan sea salt and pepper.
  3. To make it creamier, add two tablespoons of milk. (Consider sheep’s or goat’s milk for easier digestion and nutrient absorption that have as much calcium as cow’s milk.) Make sure it’s 2% or whole milk because studies show it’s more difficult to absorb vitamin D without milk’s fat (skim milk).

In addition to curbing your carb intake, using cauliflower adds twice the calcium to your meal as potatoes. (Cauliflower = 22 mg calcium per 100 grams, potatoes = 12 mg per 100 grams).

Seasonal Salad with Omega Dressing

Create a festive green and red salad with a mixture of salad greens.

How to Make:

  1. Include collard leaves (84 mg calcium per cup), kale (137 mg calcium per cup) and other high-calcium greens. These include spinach, watercress, and arugula.
  2. To better absorb their minerals, add vitamin C-rich red bell pepper and orange slices, and omega 3-rich avocado and salad dressing.
  3. Dress the salad with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and virgin olive oil. (Assemble ahead and add dressing at the last minute).

Cranberries and sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Making gourmet cranberry sauce is super simple.

How to Make:

  1. Use 2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries and add to a medium bowl.
  2. Stir in 1/2 cup of sugar (this is about two-thirds the amount of sugar that is usually suggested)
  3. Add fresh-squeezed juice of one orange, one tablespoon orange (peel) zest, and one teaspoon cinnamon.
  4. Then transfer to a pot and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves – about 10 minutes.
  5. Then increase your heat to medium until cranberries start to break down – about another 10 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to low and keep stirring for ~5 minutes. Taste your sauce and adjust taste accordingly (salt, pepper, more cinnamon or orange).

This festive sauce will get rave reviews with less sugar, no preservatives, and an extra 40 mg calcium and 85 mg vitamin C from the orange! (Did you know orange peel has more vitamin C and calcium than the flesh?)

We all know that fresh cranberries are rich in vitamin C, but they are also plentiful in bone-building calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin K, and iron. Phytonutrients are in the cranberries’ skin and flesh (not the juice). These phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and flavonoids fight inflammation that can increase bone degeneration.

Savory Stuffing

Create memory-making stuffing by using cooked quinoa in place of bread.

Quinoa works well along with traditional ingredients. These include chopped celery, onion, mushrooms and apple, dried cranberries, poultry seasoning, chicken broth, walnuts, garlic, and pinches of cinnamon and ground allspice.

Quinoa is super high in protein, containing all nine essential amino acids similar to meat. Its flavonoid antioxidants (quercetin and kaempferol) are potent anti-inflammatories that protect bone and tissue health. And it has higher oleic acid, omega-3s, and ALA fats than other grains. Stuffing ingredients such as mushrooms (with nutrients including vitamin D) and celery (with high polyphenol antioxidants) also play healthy roles.

Good To The Bone Gravy

Gravies are traditionally made with fat drippings from the cooking pan, as you know. But a healthier version cuts the amount of dripping in half and adds chicken stock to replace it.

How to Make:

  1. Sautee the stock and drippings with whole grain flour instead of white flour or cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Crushed flaxseeds also thicken gravy well.
  2. Then add dried spices and herbs instead of heavily salting. Such as powdered garlic, chives, parsley, rosemary, and pepper, which are a great blend!

If you can, make your own homemade broth as it offers more digestive, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits.

Sweet potato chunks with spices

Candy-Colored Yams

Make this holiday favorite just as mouth-watering without using the marshmallows or sugar.

How to Make:

  1. Roast maple-glazed red garnet sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called yams).
  2. To intensify the natural sweetness, cut them into one-inch pieces, lightly coat with virgin olive oil, and roast them.
  3. Then add two tablespoons maple syrup, one tablespoon organic butter, orange juice, vanilla, Himalayan sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  4. Bake another 20 minutes.
  5. Take out and present in a serving dish!

Sweet potatoes are a top source of beta-carotene and vitamin A.  And when you add olive oil, its fat significantly increases absorption of beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes’ antioxidants called anthocyanins have potent anti-inflammatory properties. These are beneficial for bone and joint health: in studies, sweet potatoes reduced NF-kB, iNOS and COX-2 that are all markers of inflammation.

Healthwise Green Bean Casserole

Make this recipe healthier with the following swaps…

How to Make:

  1. Replace the traditional deep-fried onion topping with sliced sautéed onions.
  2. Add breadcrumbs to the pan, and saute with the onions until both are crispy, and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Onions support bones!

Studies show that onions can increase bone density in women who are menopausal or older, and may lower their risk of hip fractures! Its sulfur content is said to be one reason.

And the beans? Green beans are high in calcium. But perhaps the most important mineral they offer is silicon. Silicon is called our “strength and beauty nutrient” because it builds collagen in connective tissue, skin, and bone. Few foods have silicon, which is constantly depleted (through urine, hair loss and nail clipping) so deficiency is common as we age.

Baked Bread with Herb Butter

Bread made with inflammatory white flour and refined grains should be avoided. So bake your own festive bread using ancient whole grains like spelt, kamut, and rye flour. (Or use gluten-free quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth flour).

Serve it warm with special herb butter.

How to Make:

  1. Whip organic butter with fresh minced garlic and parsley, which actually help absorption of the iron and zinc in the grains!

Try it with Lara Pizzorno’s Gluten-Free Sourdough Recipe over the holidays. You won’t be disappointed!

3 Party-Pleasing Snacks For Healthy Bones

The concept of healthy Christmas snacking seems foreign when faced with party bowls filled with potato chips, crackers, and nachos. These addictive treats may stimulate your taste buds, but they’re also high in fat, salt, and refined flour, and are devoid of nutrients. Here, we give you a few tasty and nutritious snacks to make yourself to safely nibble your way through perilous party snack trays.

Stuffed Dates & Figs

This snack offers a one-two punch: calcium to build bones and vitamin D to help your body absorb it.

Dried figs and dates may be the best fruit sources of calcium. At 241 mg of calcium per cup (13 mg each fig), a few dried figs go a long way to both get your daily calcium and satisfy your sweet tooth. Dates, too, are a natural treat, and each date contains a whopping 15 mg of calcium. For a decadent treat, and to add more calcium and some vitamin D, stuff these with a sliver of goat cheese. Goat cheese is full-flavored and easier to digest than cow cheese (it has less lactose, and fat molecules are smaller and fewer, is higher in vitamins D and K) so you may absorb the nutrients better.

How to Make:

  1. Pit the dates
  2. Slice the figs
  3. Insert the cheese
  4. Then bake them in the oven to give a crunchy and soft, sweet and salty taste sensation! Bake 15 minutes for dates, and 5 minutes for figs at 400 degrees F. (Medjool dates work best.)

assorted nuts

Half & Half Nuts

Nuts are festive staples that contain a double dose of bone-and-body-boosting nutrients; calcium and polyunsaturated essential fats.

Roast your own for the freshest flavor and benefits. Try roasting just half the amount and leaving the other half raw, and then combining the two. This gives the benefits of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from raw nuts, but still provides the rich flavor of roasted that we love. And it offers lots of calcium from both raw and roasted nuts. Pecans, almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts work well raw and roasted.

How to Make:

  1. Choose 2 cups of your favorite nut mix and separate them in half.
  2. You can roast half of them dry on a baking sheet, but if you decide to add sea salt, it will stick better if you add a touch of virgin olive oil or virgin coconut oil when roasting.  
  3. Bake at 250 degrees for ~15-20 minutes (check every 10 minutes or so for doneness) as nutrients are best retained if you slow roast nuts in the oven at this temperature.

Store-bought pre-roasted nuts go rancid quickly because roasting damages the fats and they “oxidize.” Oxidized fats are pro-inflammatory and can be unhealthy, contributing to bone and joint diseases including arthritis.

Nuts are also high in protein vital for muscle and bone development. Almonds contain about 20% protein, and one ounce offers 12% of your daily protein needs. Walnuts contain over 15 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts, equivalent to a 3.5 ounce serving of chicken! This protein makes you feel satiated so you won’t be as tempted to gorge on other foods.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Nothing is easier than making your own tortilla chips. The best part: you know what goes into them!

Use healthy whole grain tortillas, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.

How to Make:

  1. Buy a package of whole grain tortillas and cut them into eight pie-shaped sections.
  2. Lightly brush each side with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and if you wish, your choice of spices (such as garlic and onion powder) on one side.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10 to 15 minutes, watching carefully so as not to brown, but just to make crisp and crunchy.

These are a perfect complement to calcium-rich hummus and omega 3-rich guacamole.  What do whole grains offer? Oats are high in manganese, which is needed to form bone and cartilage. Amaranth is high in calcium and iron. Kamut® has six times more selenium than other grains, which prevents cell damage from free radicals. Spelt is high in protein. And quinoa trumps them all in folate.

Deck the Halls with 6 Healthy Desserts and Drinks

What is a treat? When you think of the word “treat”, don’t you think of it as (the dictionary definition):”a source of special pleasure”? To keep it special, meaning not every day, savor a small portion of decadent dessert occasionally. And consider healthier alternatives as main players. Here we offer some healthy ideas to end your Christmas meal.

Dark Chocolate

Some people describe dark chocolate as “the perfect pleasure food” for its energy-boosting minerals, calming fats, and ability to raise serotonin and dopamine.

These are the fall-in-love neurotransmitters that create a feeling of elation and happiness.

The 70-85% cocoa varieties are very high in iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. They also offer potassium, zinc, and selenium that all increase bone health. Cocoa (also known as cacao) also has polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins that fight premature aging. High-cocoa versions are low in cholesterol and sugar, but even during the holidays, eat it in moderation since it is high in saturated fat.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin or Mincemeat Pie

Make mince pies with whole wheat filo pastry (now available in most frozen food sections) instead of traditional high-fat shortcrust, flaky or puff pastry. If using shortcrust, use a thin layer only and leave the pies open rather than latticed or covered.  Check the label of the fruit mince, if store-bought, and choose one without suet (raw beef or mutton fat).

If your Christmas favorite is the traditional Thanksgiving pie, you have healthy taste! Pumpkin pie, especially made with less sugar and cream than the recipe calls for, is a great choice for bone health. Pumpkin is nutrient-dense. It has potassium to protect bone density, vitamin C as a vital co-factor to make collagen, and beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant to reduce inflammation. For a decorative touch, sprinkle raw pumpkin seeds on top before baking for added omega fats and antioxidants.

Looking for a vegan or gluten-free version of Pumpkin Pie? Check out our recipe here.

Festive Fruit Kebabs

What are the best fruits for bone health? Papaya and bananas contain potassium, and strawberries, tangerines, and kiwi fruit are high in vitamin C and calcium. If you think fresh fruit is too every day for a festive meal, add glamor!

Top fruit salad with bone-friendly lemon yogurt and toasted almonds. Build fruit kebabs.

How to Make:

  1. Thread chunks of papaya, kiwifruit and strawberries on skewers.
  2. Add tiny white marshmallows and dried red cranberries between.
  3. Chocolate-covered strawberries add special-occasion flair. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler, in the microwave, or in a bowl over boiling water. Dip strawberries so that they are half covered, and allow them to cool on wax paper.
  4. Assemble your skewers with your chosen ingredients and serve.

What To Drink?

Mulled wine with spices

Mulled Wine

High alcohol consumption is associated with bone loss. It reduces calcium absorption and vitamin D metabolism and it lowers estrogen and increases cortisol and parathyroid hormone that speed bone breakdown.

However, having a 3-ounce glass of wine may have bone health benefits. This is because its resveratrol has positive effects on inflammation and metabolic syndrome (metabolic syndrome increases risk of many diseases including osteoporosis). Adding mulling spices to festive drinks: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger all have great health benefits.

How to Make:

  1. Combine 1 bottle (750 ml) of dry red wine, 1 orange (sliced into rounds), 1/4 cup of honey or sugar, 8 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 2-star anise into a saucepan on medium heat. Optional additions: nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom, and ginger.
  2. Bring to a simmer, but not a boil! You don’t want to boil the alcohol out.
  3. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer for at least 15 minutes, up to 2 hours.
  4. Strain and serve!
  5. You can also add garnishes, such as cinnamon sticks and freshly sliced oranges to the rims.


Eggnog is now available in lower fat versions that still offer milk and eggs – good for bone health with calcium and vitamin D.

Nogs made from milk substitutes such as Coconut Holiday Nog (with organic coconut, cane sugar, and spices, without egg) and Almond Milk Nog are deceptively similar to the original if you are avoiding dairy. They are now available at many grocers.

Add water to make it stretch further, especially if you are having it with a shot of rum. And grate fresh nutmeg on top (rather than powdered) for extra flavor.

Holiday Cocoa

A tempting and comforting alternative to caffeinated coffee and teas is to make hot cocoa from scratch, using just a teaspoon of sugar. This slightly bitter cocoa (also known as cacao) is now offered as a coffee substitute in some coffee shops with just a splash of milk. Or it even forgoes milk, depending on how you take your coffee. (See Dark Chocolate for cocoa nutrition.)

Happy Holidays from AlgaeCal!

This Christmas, try not to live by “two different sets of rules.” A special occasion shouldn’t give you the go-ahead to gorge on food you normally wouldn’t.

During the holidays, plan to be as disciplined as you normally are. And remember that if you make healthy choices 90% of the time, and not such good ones 10% of the time, you’ll be doing very well. And you will be proud of yourself when the party’s over!

What is your favorite dish during the holidays? Please share it with us and the community in the comments below…

Rita Wiseman
Rita Wiseman

3 cups raw pecans
1.5 cups soaked dried figs with stems removed
1.5 Tbsp vanilla extract (without alcohol is best)
Let figs soak for 1 hour before preparing recipe. Drain figs, pat dry, and combine with raw pecans in a food processor. Process figs and pecans until they are well combined. Put in a bowl and add the vanilla and mix up well. This should be a moist vanilla bar-like-texture. Transfer to an 8×8 baking dish and press down gently with hands. Use a knife to cut into square bars about 1″ by 1″…bite size. Put baking dish in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or the freezer for about 20 minutes to allow bars to take form. Enjoy.


Thanks for sharing your recipe, Rita!

This sounds absolutely delicious 🙂

– Monica

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