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Boosting Bone Health—The Vegan Way, by Anna Pelzer, VLCE

posted July 9, 2024

As we age, osteoporosis poses a threat to our bones. We start to lose bone in our mid-40s, but it’s never too late to improve your bone health, and a whole foods vegan diet has many benefits.

Living Bones

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Bone is living tissue that is constantly changing—broken down and replaced or remodeled with new bone. When we are younger, the bones are built up faster than they are broken down. As we age, however, we lose bone faster than it can be replaced. Estrogen has a protective effect on bones, aiding calcium absorption. As estrogen decreases during and post-menopause, women’s bones break down faster than the body can replace the bone.

Plant Protein and Bone Health

Eating enough plant protein, from a variety of sources, is important. Approximately one third of our bone mass is protein. Animal protein and acidic, highly processed foods, simple sugars, or caffeine can leach calcium from the body. Acidic foods require the body to pull calcium from the bones to neutralize it so it can be excreted in the urine. Plant proteins are much more alkaline. Incorporating protein-rich plant foods can help support bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Plant protein sources are typically balanced with carbohydrates and fats and are rich in fiber, unlike animal proteins. Eating an abundance of colorful fruits and veggies protects against oxidative stress and leaching calcium.

Where to Get Calcium

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Calcium is essential to your bone health, but dairy is not necessary for calcium. There are many reasons to avoid dairy, including the inherent cruelty in the dairy industry, lactose intolerance, and contaminants such as antibiotics and hormones.

Calcium does not originate in milk, rather it is absorbed from soil by plants, which cows then eat. If we want to get more calcium, we really need to consume more plants!

Excellent sources of calcium include dark leafy green vegetables, especially parsley, broccoli, collards, and kale. Tofu is sometimes set in calcium, which is very absorbable. Chickpeas, sesame seeds, and almonds are high in calcium as well.

Other Things to Consider

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps maintain calcium blood levels. My preferred way of getting vitamin D is getting it through the sun, but this can be difficult in winter months depending on where you live. Some foods, like oat milk, are often fortified with vitamin D, and mushrooms have some vitamin D as well, but supplementation may be required.

Weight-Bearing Exercise

Exercise is the next thing to consider. Weight bearing activity helps build more bone cells. Putting stress on your bones stimulates bone building and more calcium to deposited into your bones.

Examples:

  • Walking
  • Weight training
  • Dancing
  • Running

But weight bearing activity doesn’t have to be formal exercise. Activities that put a bit of stress on your bones are also weight bearing activities.

Examples:

  • Yard work
  • Carrying groceries
  • Climbing stairs

Balance Training

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Falling risk increases as we age. This can be due to decreased strength and stability, eyesight changes, or slower reflexes. Balance training can help avoid falls and prevent hip fracture, which is quite serious and can be very difficult to recover from, especially if you have osteoporosis.

Examples:

  • Standing on one leg
  • Shifting your weight
  • Tai Chi

Stress Reduction

Stress hormones have a negative effect on bones, so incorporating a meditation practice can also help. Getting enough sleep also helps with recovery and gives your muscles and bones a chance to repair.

 

Photo Credit: Anna Pelzer

Anna Pelzer is a Registered Health & Nutrition Coach and the host of the Vegan Menopause Podcast. She graduated from Main Street Vegan Academy in 2015. Find her on Instagram @anna.pelzer and Facebook. Head over to Blissful Menopause to grab her free Vegan Menopause 3-Day Meal Plan.

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