Published On: Wed, Nov 7th, 2018

How to optimise bone health with a plant-based diet

It’s not all about sourcing calcium when it comes to keeping your bones in shape. 

How to optimise bone health with a plant-based diet

People often worry that vegans can’t get enough calcium, but in reality, it’s easy to hit your daily target without dairy if you choose good alternatives. However, when it comes to looking after our bones, calcium is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s good to be aware of other links between our lifestyles and this aspect of our health.

Calcium without dairy

When you’re looking for the best vegan sources of calcium, you need to take into account the amount of calcium per serving, and how easy it is for your body to absorb. Fortified foods and calcium-set tofu are really rich sources, because they contain lots of calcium and it’s easily absorbed. You can hit your target every day by eating at least two servings of these foods. Each of the following examples has about a third of your daily calcium requirement:

  • 200ml (7fl oz) calcium-fortified plant milk
  • 200g (7oz) calcium-fortified soya yoghurt
  • 70g (2½oz) calcium-set tofu (uncooked weight)
  • 2 slices of soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium

The calcium in kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pak choi, cauliflower and watercress is also absorbed well, but the amounts of calcium per serving are lower.

Be aware that organic plant milks lack the calcium fortification that makes most other plant milks great alternatives to cows’ milk. If you choose to use homemade, organic or unfortified plant milk, and you don’t eat calcium-fortified foods or calcium-set tofu, you can use a supplement to top-up your intake.

How to optimise bone health with a plant-based diet

It’s not all about calcium!

Calcium plays an important role in keeping our bones healthy, but it’s not the only factor that we can influence. A well-planned diet, active lifestyle and healthy weight is a winning combination.

Vitamin D

If the level of vitamin D in your blood is low, your body is going to struggle to absorb calcium from your diet. In the UK, the general recommendation for all adults is to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter as a minimum, and year-round supplementation is advised for certain groups. Vegans can get their vitamin D from animal-free sources – D3 from lichen and D2.

Vitamin K

This nutrient is also needed for bone health. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli, spinach and kiwi fruit are good sources of vitamin K – it’s a great reason to eat your greens!

Activity

Regularly taking part in the following types of physical activities is a key aspect in helping to keep your bones strong:

  • Weight-bearing exercise in which you support your body weight through your feet, legs, hands or arms
  • Weight-resisted exercise like strength training that involves pushing against some resistance

In later life, activities that target muscle strength and balance can help to prevent falls.

Body mass index (BMI)

Generally, you’re more likely to break a bone if your BMI is low. The NHS Choices website provides a handy BMI calculator, which can help you to work out if your weight is healthy for your height.

Take-away tips

  • Make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet containing adequate calcium and including vitamins D and K
  • Participate in regular weight-bearing and weight-resisted activities
  • Maintain or work towards a healthy BMI

If you’re keen to find out more about all aspects of vegan nutrition, then check out the resources available online at vegansociety.com/nutrition, including the free VNutrition app.


About the author 

Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society.

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