Your Bones and Plant-Based Eating

A plant-based diet positively impacts your bones because of the nutrients it provides, especially potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Plant-based eating consists of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, healthy oils, and may include small amounts of animal foods.   

This budget-friendly eating style offers an array of delicious flavors and colors, as well as a multitude of food choices, including herbs and spices.   

Plant-based eating may only involve plant foods, such as veganism. It may also be a vegetarian diet that includes eggs and/or dairy foods. Other plant-based eating patterns comprise the DASH, Mediterranean, or MIND diets.   

Plant-based eating can also be an informal food combination of your choosing. What’s important is that you plan it well to get all the nutrients you need as you would with any other eating pattern.  

Your-Bones-and-Plant-Based-Eating-Infographic

 Your Bones and Plant-Based Eating infographic

Preventing the development of osteoporosis  

Antioxidants can keep osteoporosis at bay by protecting your bones from oxidative stress. The nutrients in a plant-based diet protect against the wear and tear of your cells.  

As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects our tissues and helps with collagen formation for muscle and bone building, keeping them strong.  

Vitamin E is another antioxidant that shields your bones by being consumed by the free radicals in your body.  

Carotenoids, a group of phytochemicals, serve as antioxidants that can help prevent bone loss. In a human study of postmenopausal women, lycopene reduced oxidative stress.  

Polyphenols are other phytochemicals that protect bones by boosting antioxidant enzymes. Emerging research shows that polyphenols may help in the prevention and care of osteoporosis. Many fruits, including prunes, have this effect.  

How fiber helps your bones  

Fiber can indirectly help your bones by keeping your gut at its best. High-fiber foods contain nutrients that are good for your bones. Fiber helps with calcium absorption, preventing bones from breaking down in postmenopausal women.   

These foods can also contribute to less inflammation from the antioxidants they contain. Fiber-rich plant foods such as beans, lentils, fruits, and veggies also slow absorption keeping you full longer preventing a rise in your blood sugar.  

Postmenopausal women have a higher risk for cell damage throughout the body due to the loss of protective estrogen. Estrogen attacks cell-damaging free radicals and encourages enzyme systems to fight them off. Because of the estrogen loss, your bones lose more minerals than before menopause.  

Older women with intestinal conditions that cause malabsorption need even more foods containing antioxidants for bone protection.  

Many plant foods are good for your bones  

Plant-based foods provide your bones with healthy carbohydrates, fats, and protein.   

Carbohydrates come from   

  • whole grains  
  • fruits   
  • veggies  
  • beans  
  • lentils  

Fats are available from   

  • olives  
  • avocadoes  
  • nuts  
  • seeds  
  • oils  

Protein is found in varying amounts in   

  • whole grains  
  • soy  
  • nuts  
  • seeds  
  • beans  
  • lentils  

How can you get enough protein by eating a plant-based diet?  

A plant-based diet can supply all the protein you need for good health. Proteins are available in whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts), tree nuts, and seeds. Other sources include peanut butter, nutritional yeast, and pea milk. Soy foods such as tempeh, tofu, and soy milk contribute protein.  

Protein may promote increased calcium absorption from the foods you eat. Protein also helps keep the bones strong to help prevent hip fractures.   

Bone-building minerals 

A retrospective cross-sectional study showed that potassium, a nutrient many women fall short on, helps improve bone mineral density in postmenopausal Korean women.   

Potassium is ample in most plant foods and varies by the food. Some whole grains, beans, lentils, potatoes, and dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins, and prunes, offer an abundance of this potent nutrient.   

Calcium provides structure and strength to your bones, where this mineral is stored for your body. Calcium must be at a constant level in the blood to have a ready supply for your muscles. All muscles must have calcium to contract, including the heart.   

If you don’t get enough calcium from your food intake on a consistent basis to supply your blood, your bones will contribute some of their calcium to your blood level, weakening your bones.   

Bone is constantly being turned over or remodeled. The minerals flow in and out so your bones can continuously rebuild. If more minerals go out than in, you lose density and are at risk for osteoporosis.  

Calcium can be found in leafy greens, broccoli, some plant-based milk, dried figs, tofu, tempeh, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified cereals, and almonds.   

Magnesium is another mineral essential for bones. A review article found that osteoporosis was higher in menopausal women with low magnesium levels.   

Foods with higher amounts of magnesium include cooked spinach, soy milk, pumpkin and chia seeds, peanuts, almonds, oats, potatoes with skin, and beans like black and kidney.  

Iron is needed to prevent bones from weakening. A healthy supply of iron, not too much and not too little, keeps your bones strong. The body tightly stores and regulates iron to help you prevent deficiency.   

Plant foods containing iron include beans, lentils, bulgur, some fruits like apricots, blackberries, raspberries, and dark leafy greens. Including foods rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene helps you absorb this precious mineral.   

Bone-building vitamins  

Vitamin C, an antioxidant for the body, contributes to trabecular bone formation and lowers the risk of fracture. A common area for fractures is at the upper neck of the thigh bone (femur) at the hip socket, composed of trabecular bone.   

Fruits and veggies, especially citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, strawberries, and peppers, are loaded with vitamin C.   

Vitamin D helps with intestinal absorption of calcium in the foods you eat. This vitamin also helps calcium enter the bones, keeping them strong.   

Exposure to sunshine helps you make this vitamin in your skin. You can also obtain vitamin D from mushrooms exposed to UV light and some plant-based milk. Your lab levels can show if you are getting enough.  

Conclusion  

Plant-based eating contributes to strong bones and does not need to be complicated. Everyone can enjoy this eating style. As with any eating pattern, shopping and purchasing wisely is still required, and planning and reading food labels is recommended.  

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our *free* 5-day course on 5 Staples for Quick Meals to Keep Your Bones Strong!  

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Stephanie Turkel is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Texas. She has 30 plus years of experience in the nutrition field. She now takes her gained knowledge and shares it with you to explain science articles into easy-to-understand information.

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Grace Rivers, RDN, CDCES

Grace is a registered dietitian nutritionist residing in Texas. She has over 30 years of experience in nutrition. Grace loves translating science articles into easy-to-understand information for you.

 

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