fbpx

Veganism and Osteoporosis: What to Know About Bone Health?

Vegan-Bone-Health
6 min reading time

Veganism and Osteoporosis: What Should Vegans Know About Bone Health?

You’ve likely been brought up to believe that you need cow’s milk for bone health (like in the infamous “Got Milk?” Campaign).  

 

But in reality, a well-planned vegan diet can help maintain excellent bone health. Some studies do suggest that vegans may be at higher risk of bone fracture, but the evidence isn’t so clear. 

 

In the end, it is most likely the type of diet a vegan follows that matters more than being vegan itself.

Let’s talk about the vegan diet and ways to manage osteoporosis risk.

Osteoporosis-Vegan

What even is osteoporosis?

Unlike popular narratives, osteoporosis is not a “dairy deficiency” nor is it a “calcium deficiency” disease. 

Osteoporosis is a disease that features a complex interplay of factors. Yes – calcium is important, but there’s a lot more to the story. 

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and low bone density which can lead to increased risk of fracture. Osteoporosis can affect people at almost any age, but people 50 years of age or older are at the greatest risk. 

Taking action to protect bone health in childhood and early adulthood is key to preventing osteoporosis later in life. 

Veganism and osteoporosis: Factors that affect bone health

There’s no question that calcium is crucial for bone health. 

Calcium is the predominant mineral in bone and is necessary for the building and maintenance of bone. If dietary calcium isn’t available (or is too low), the body pulls calcium out of bones, thereby weakening them. 

Vegan diets need to be well-planned to ensure adequate calcium intake. 

Adults need 1,000mg of calcium per day, while women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 need 1,200mg. Studies consistently show that vegans do not meet these needs. 

This places vegans at higher risk for low bone density.  

To up your calcium intake as a vegan and increase your bone density, try the following:

  • Eat dark green vegetables daily (broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, bok choy, etc.)
  • Use calcium-set tofu (check the label to make sure your tofu is high calcium – some aren’t)
  • Drink calcium-fortified beverages like non-dairy milks and juices
  • Make almonds, almond butter, tahini, and blackstrap molasses a part of meals and snacks

You should also watch your intake of salt, alcohol, and caffeine – these foods decrease calcium absorption. 

Vegan-Bone-osteoporosis

Physical activity, veganism, and osteoporosis risk

Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on bone health. 

 

Physical activity (specifically, weight-bearing resistance exercise) intensifies the bone-building process and helps maintain bone density as we age. Later in life, activities that target muscle strength and balance can help prevent falls and fractures. 

 

There are special nutritional considerations for athletes on a plant-based diet and osteoporosis.

 

For example, female athletes at high risk for early osteoporosis need additional calcium (1,500mg per day) to support their bone health. 

 

If you identify as an athlete and follow a plant-based diet, a vegan sports nutrition meal plan or vegan sport counseling can help ensure that you are giving your body what it needs. A registered dietitian can offer this support.

 

Other foods that increase bone density (hint: it’s not all about calcium)

You might be wondering which other foods increase bone density. In fact, managing veganism and osteoporosis is more complex than adequate calcium intake. Many other important nutrients are involved and play crucial roles in building vegan bone density.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is directly involved in the building of strong bones because it helps us absorb calcium. The daily requirement of Vitamin D is 600IU. 

You can obtain vitamin D from fortified foods (like fortified breakfast cereal or non-dairy milks, for example), but if you live in Canada, you should take a 1,000-2,000 IU vitamin D supplement during the winter months (October-April) for optimal health. 

Sunlight exposure and fortified foods will likely not be enough to meet your vitamin D needs alone. 

Vitamin K

Vitamin K stimulates bone formation. 

Conveniently, you can find Vitamin K in the same foods that have high calcium, like dark leafy greens, beans, and soy products. These foods can help increase bone density

Potassium

Potassium decreases calcium loss and increases the rate of bone building. 

Oranges, bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits and veggies are all rich sources of potassium. As a rule of thumb, whole foods are typically high in potassium, while processed foods are low in potassium.

Take-home tips for veganism and bone health

A well-planned plant-based diet can protect against osteoporosis. Here are a few key tips:

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

An eating pattern that contains a variety of whole grains, healthy fats, protein, and fruits and veggies will contain important nutrients for protecting bone health. A vegan registered dietitian can support you in eating a balanced diet.

Eat dark leafy greens daily

Dark leafy greens are packed with important nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Leafy greens can also improve the performance and recovery of athletes. For my foolproof tips for how to eat more leafy greens, as well as why you should eat more greens, check my article out here (insert link). 

Drink calcium-fortified beverages

Choose calcium-set tofu, and eat almonds, tahini, and blackstrap molasses. These are all good sources of vegan calcium. 

Take a Vitamin D supplement

Top up your calcium intake with a supplement if needed.

Exercise 150 minutes per week

Adding resistance and weight-bearing exercise to your routine. 

 

Veganism and osteoporosis

Overall, a well-planned vegan diet can help maintain excellent bone health. 

 

Veganism might not necessarily reduce the risk of osteoporosis alone, but it certainly can promote adequate bone health with an adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, vitamin K, and other important nutrients.  

 

If you think you might have osteoporosis or have questions about veganism and bone health, it’s a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian for individualized nutrition advice.