Until recently, much of the research exploring the role of nutrition on bone mass accrual has focused on single nutrients. Although randomised controlled trials have provided key information about the effects of calcium and vitamin D on bone, they also have limitations, e.g. generalisation, implementation of the results and long-term consequences. Human subjects do not eat single nutrients, but foods, and describing healthy food patterns for optimising bone mineral accrual is warranted. Recent advances in research suggest that the effects of whole diet are larger than those of single nutrients on bone health. Research should focus on younger age groups to identify the life-course determinants of osteoporosis during prenatal, infancy, childhood and adolescence that would help to maximise peak bone mass. Food patterns that describe the variability, quality and choices of individuals give broader insight and may provide new strategies for preventing osteoporosis.