Diet can play a very large role in the health of our bones, with the most important diet staple being calcium. Calcium is an essential nutrient to promote strong bones. Calcium is highest in dairy products such as milk, ice cream, and yogurt, for example. The problem is dairy products are a byproduct of animals, and if you’re vegan, you don’t consume animal byproducts. This puts vegans at risk of not consuming enough calcium which, in turn, can hurt their bones in the long run.
But the debate on whether being vegan is safe for your bones is ongoing, with some nutritionists arguing that a lack of cow-based diary is dangerous for your bones. On the other hand, there are several different studies, which have looked at plant-based calcium – found in fruits and vegetables – as being beneficial for strong bones.
So, what exactly do you believe?
We know that calcium, along with vitamin D, is important for strong bones. As mentioned, calcium is predominately found in dairy products, which stems from cows. But there are plenty of plant-based sources of calcium too. Chia seeds, dark leafy greens, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, almond butter, beans, vegetables like artichokes and broccoli, fruit like blackberries, oranges, and figs, and amaranth are some of the highest sources of non-dairy calcium.
Along with diet, exercise is also noted as highly important for building strong bones, especially weight-bearing exercises.
One study in particular – known as The Harvard Nurses’ Health study – looked at women’s calcium consumption and its effect on bone health. The study concluded that higher calcium consumption does little to protect bones from hip or forearm fractures. Furthermore, the study uncovered that an increase in calcium could actually contribute to fractures rather than prevent them.
“They concluded that their results do not support the hypothesis that higher consumption of milk or other food
sources of calcium by adult women protects against hip or forearm fractures.”
In an alternative study that explored fruit and vegetable consumption and osteoporosis prevention, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine explained, “Researchers at the University of Surrey, UK, explored the association between fruit and vegetable intakes and bone mineral status in a cross-sectional study including participants from five age and sex cohorts (adolescent boys and girls, young women and older men and women). Fruit and vegetable intake was positively associated with increased total body bone mineral density and bone mineral content in adolescent girls and boys. In older women, a positive association was found between bone mineral content and fruit intake.”
“Based on these results, a doubling of fruit intake in older women would be expected to result in a five percent increase in the bone mineral content of the spine,” they concluded.
As you can see, there is supporting evidence to suggest that being vegan can be positive for bone health, yet there are some skeptics that do not support this diet. Before you make any switches to your diet, ensure you see your doctor and have your bone health evaluated to determine if you are at risk for any bone-related problems. And before you reach for any calcium supplements, also speak to your doctor, because there is other research that suggests too much calcium in supplement form may trigger heart-related events.
Related: 15 bone strengthening exercises for strong bones