Five ways to bone health

image for 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.

Calcium

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.

Go bananas

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.

Go outside

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.

Conclusion

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. 

Signed by: Monika.

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  1. Marcus on 26 October 2018 at 1:55 pm

    I used to consume Large amounts of milk but I stopped having milk products about four years ago to see if it would help my skin, I get psoriasis and it had an effect for about six months. But since I’ve used milk substitutes, almond milk mainly, and though I’m not vegan I have been influenced by some of it’s reasoning. I saw an interesting video of a Doctor talking about milk consumption in humans; we’re the only species that regularly consumes milk after weaning and another creature’s at that! Also it’s designed to turn a small baby calf into a fully grown cow, doing this by containing high amounts of proteins and fats and not to mention hormones. This said I don’t avoid it completely, everything in moderation, mainly in cheese and of course Chocolate!!!

    • Monika Maurer on 26 October 2018 at 4:06 pm

      Interesting point Marcus and yes, I do recall you’re a bit of a chocolate fiend! We’re the only species that regularly (mostly) eats processed food – even cooked food is processed when you think about it. Everyone’s different and we all respond differently to different foods. I don’t have psoriasis, but I do get eczema and I have tried cutting out dairy and it made no difference whatsoever :-(. There are general principles, but we have to see what works for us as individuals. But I’m glad you have found that not eating dairy helps you – just make sure you eat your leafy greens and tinned sardines instead! As well as the occasional bit of cheese and chocolate. Not at the same time though, obviously… 🙂 🙂 Just out of interest, what and where was the video you saw?

  2. Fran on 31 October 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Thank you Monika for this interesting post.
    Optimising bone density / health in teenage years is really important – and an issue with teenage girls who may restrict their diet. As Monika says many other foods other than dairy contain Calcium. Just think about many Asian populations which have little dairy in their traditional diets – I am not aware that they have high prevalence of osteoporosis. Smoking, alcohol, low BMI (i.e history of anorexia / low body weight) and long term steroid use (e.g prednisolone for asthma or inflammatory conditions e.g arthritis) are all also significant risk factors for poor bone health.
    How about walking to the shops and carrying those tins of sardines and sacks of almonds home for weight bearing exercise? Less carbon foot print too!
    As Monika points out – we can do a lot to build and maintain our bone health by making simple changes to our diet and lifestyle.

    • Monika Maurer on 1 November 2018 at 9:33 am

      Hi Fran. I love it! Multitasking while doing the shopping – and saving the planet too – sounds good to me. It’s so worth trying to make these small tweaks to our lifestyle. Add them all up and they can make such a difference!

  3. RoseMary Griffith on 1 November 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I was (mostly) a vegetarian for decades, but never truly gave up dairy. However, I didn’t realize losing B12 was an issue until it became as issue! I just had a bone density scan and am waiting to hear that doing all the above things have helped keep my bones healthy. I’ll let you know. And happy to hear that you give bananas the ok because I sure like to pop half a frozen one into a protein shake!

    • Monika Maurer on 1 November 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Oh fingers crossed your scan comes back with some good news, Rosemary. As for bananas, I’m sure it’s illegal to make shakes without them isn’t it?! And I just discovered (today) a non-dairy yoghurt that I like. I’m trying to up my bio intake for gut health but I am not a huge fan of yoghurts really. This one is made from coconut milk, is full of biocultures and is de-licious. Happy days.

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