Five ways to bone health
We all know the many benefits of a plant-based diet.
In terms of health and sustainability it’s better for your body, as well as the planet. In addition to that, it’s also an excellent way of practising Ahimsa, the Buddhist principle of non-harm.
But one thing that concerns me about a vegan diet – not just as the mother of two growing boys but as a woman of a certain age – is how it affects our bone health.
Bone density for all of us is key. This is especially true for children building up bone mass and women in the first few years after menopause. At this point in their lives women go in a period of rapid loss of bone mass and potentially run the risk of developing osteoporosis.
One of the key factors in preventing this is building strong bones in childhood. This helps slow the loss of bone density as you age. But if it’s too late for that, is there anything else can you do? The good news is that bone is living tissue which constantly remodels itself. It may be a little more difficult, but building up bone mass after the age of 30 can be done.
The consumption of calcium has always been seen as key to building strong bones. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. A total of 90% of it is stored in our bones and teeth and it makes up 2% of our body weight.
Where to find it
So what are good sources of calcium? Traditionally, dairy has been marketed as a calcium-rich, bone-building health drink.
But these days cows’ milk is often laden with hormones and preservatives, which (especially for women of a certain age) can send our bodies into a tailspin when it comes to gut health, weight, skin and – ironically – bone health. Best go for the organic option if you can.
So, if you shun dairy for ethical or health reasons (lactose intolerance for example), what else can you do for your bone health? Lots, it seems.
Let’s take a look beyond the dairy aisle.
Options for bone health
Other sources of calcium
Dairy is not the only calcium food source. Other great calcium-rich foods that are non-dairy include seeds (poppy, sesame and chia), tinned sardines and salmon, almonds, beans, lentils and tofu. And let’s not forget calcium-enriched milk alternatives if you are avoiding milk-based products.
Eat your greens
Fruit and veg are the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells in addition to protecting bone cells from damage. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale also contain vitamin K – low levels of which have been linked to low bone density.
Rich in potassium, bananas are the original superfood. As well as helping support a range of essential bodily functions – including blood pressure – a diet rich in potassium is associated with positive bone density. Potassium is also found in diary, should you choose to consume it.
Being deficient in vitamin D can lead to week and brittle bones. Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium to support bone health and when these are out of balance your bone density will suffer. In the summer (in the UK at least), make sure you spend enough time outdoors. In the winter, take a supplement.
Get your exercise
Weight-bearing exercise is key in building strong bones: it stimulates bone formation and retains calcium in the bones that are bearing the load. Brisk walking (try Nordic!), jogging, tennis, skipping and weights and resistance machines down the gym are helpful. Thirty minutes of exercise four times a week should do it.
Bone is living tissue, so it’s never too late to work on your bone health. I’d love to incorporate more of a plant-based diet in the Wannabe household but with three committed carnivores it’s an uphill struggle. I’m so pleased there are other options.
Osteoporosis is disease with a strong genetic component. Do you know anyone in your family who suffered from it? Even more reason to take your bone health seriously.