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Food & Health

Building Strong Bones With Plant Foods

Our earliest ancestors didn’t drink milk and didn’t need to worry about calcium at all. Milk didn’t appear in human diets until around 10,000 years ago, and even then it was common only in certain population groups. But anthropologists speculate that the diets of early humans were rich in calcium—with intakes higher than today’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for this nutrient—because they dined on calcium-rich greens.

Many of the wild greens they ate are lost to us now, but we still have a variety of calcium-rich veggies plus wonderful plant-based foods that are fortified with this nutrient. Calcium is only part of the story, of course. Strong bones depend on a variety of diet and lifestyle factors. By following a few guidelines—which apply to anyone on any kind of diet—it’s easy to keep bones strong and healthy on a vegan diet.

Aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day—the recommended calcium intake for adults—from foods with well-absorbed calcium. Foods like legumes and whole sesame seeds contain calcium, but it’s attached to other compounds in the food and isn’t absorbed well into the blood. The same is true for a few vegetables like spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard. However, calcium is very well absorbed from kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, fortified plant milks, fortified juices and firm tofu made with calcium-sulfate—all good sources of this mineral.

Eat enough protein. The old thinking was that protein leached calcium from bones. Newer research suggests that this isn’t true—and as long as your calcium intake is sufficient, protein is good for your bones. Include at least 3 servings a day of legumes (cooked dried beans, peanuts, or soyfoods) in your diet. Nuts, whole grains and vegetables also provide protein. Soy products like tofu, tempeh and fortified soymilk do double duty in this regard since they provide both calcium and protein.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These foods help keep blood more alkaline which protects bone health. They also contain nutrients—vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and boron—that are important for healthy bones. Diets that are packed with fruits and veggies are associated with stronger bones.

Get adequate vitamin D. Whether they are vegan, vegetarian or a meat-eater—most people depend on sunshine or fortified foods or supplements to meet vitamin D needs. Very few foods are natural sources of this nutrient. Even cow’s milk is a poor source of vitamin D unless it’s fortified. If you live in a sunny area and spend 10 to 20 minutes (the darker your skin, the more exposure you need) during midday on a day when sunburn is possible, you should be set. If not, consider adding a supplement of at least 600 IUs to your daily intake.

Make time for weight-bearing exercise. Exercise that stresses your muscles (like weight lifting) or creates an impact (like jogging) is best for keeping muscles strong. Being sedentary is one of the worst things you can do for your bones.

Watch out for bone thieves: Too much salt and alcohol can sap the strength from your bones. So can fast weight loss.

Here are some super bone-building foods to include in your vegan diet:

Milligrams of Calcium Other Bone Benefits
Calcium-set firm tofu (made with calcium-sulfate), 1 cup 200-300 Provides protein
Leafy greens (bok choy, kale, collards, mustard or turnip greens) 1 cup cooked 100 to 260 Provides vitamin K and potassium
Broccoli, 1 cup cooked 60 to 85 Provides vitamin C
Fortified orange or tomato juice, 1 cup 300 Provides vitamin C and potassium (choose reduced sodium tomato juice)
Fortified soymilk, 1 cup 300 Provides protein
Fortified almond, hempseed, rice, oat and coconut milks, 1 cup 300 These milks tend to be low in nutrients, but they are a good source of calcium and vitamin D, and a great alternative to soymilk.

Image Source: Image 1, Image 2

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31 comments on “Building Strong Bones With Plant Foods”

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Lisa Leonard
4 Months Ago

good to know!

Monica Rohl
4 Months Ago

Mary-Lou Dice Vibrans

Tommy W
4 Months Ago

These are great tips. The one part I would query is that related to consumption of soy. There's a lot of evidence emerging that the main reason soy has been touted as so good for us is...surprise...the soy lobby! In fact, turns out it aint that great for us after all; in fact, it's actually bad for us (apart from fermented soy, which has tremendous health benefits). This is compounded by the fact that it is one of the most GMO-ridden items in our shopping carts today. So, while I'm with you on the tempeh, and would heartily endorse natto too for anyone out there who finds it palatable, I would steer away from any unfermented soy products in anything other than modest consumption.

Emily Curci
4 Months Ago

Lauren Saunders

Rod Hartley
4 Months Ago

I don't believe milk adds as much calcium to us as we are told.

Medina Isaac
4 Months Ago

there is ash found in the stomachaches of gladiators who had twice as dense bones as most people. ash has lots of calcium .

11 Months Ago

I simply hoped to just take a couple of seconds and let you know that I liked the post. I in all honesty don't believe that most people know the level of energy that gets put into establishing a good internet site. I recognize this will be kind of random nonetheless it bothers me occasionally. At any rate outstanding website.

does meratol work
1 Years Ago

Sometimes diet and exercise are not enough to help you reach your weight loss goals. Meratol weight loss capsule is medically confirmed to burn up your calories as well as in addition, it manages meals and snacks craving so there won't be the sensation of consuming unnecessarily. Does Meratol work effectively on every one of these elements.

1 Years Ago

Hi Ginny, I appreciate all your knowledge and information. I've heard recently that the organic coconut and almond milk available in health food stores (and the like) all contain vitamin D2. Is vitamin d2 actually a synthetic. I've heard it's really bad for you. Also, do you have any recommendation for a calcium/magnesium supplement that is plant based? Thank you!

Alberto Avram
2 Years Ago

I know that the Vegan way is the best for your bones and the way you get the chance to play cooking games and prepare great vegetables meals just make me salivate


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