Vegan diets and osteoporosis: guide to good bone health

Vegan diets and osteoporosis: Keep your bones healthy

Read Time:   |  13th July 2020

Make sure you're meeting your nutritional needs with Heather Russel's guide to getting all the good stuff into you...

The Vegan Society’s research suggests that some vegan-curious individuals have health concerns about transitioning to a totally plant-based diet, including people with long-term conditions. This month, we’re looking at considerations around osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

According to the Royal Osteoporosis Society, it has been estimated that three million people in the UK are affected by osteoporosis.

Someone living with this condition is more likely to fracture a bone after a bump or fall because their bones have lost strength.

However, breaking a bone is not inevitable. Healthy lifestyle choices can help people to live well with osteoporosis, including vegans.

Healthy dairy replacement is an important part of vegan nutrition. The Eatwell Guide highlights the role of fortified dairy alternatives, For example, fortified plant milk has the same level of calcium as cow’s milk.

Everyone should aim to eat at least two portions of calcium-rich foods daily. Here are some plant-based examples:

  • 200ml (scant 1 cup) fortified plant milk
  • 200g (scant 1 cup) fortified soya yoghurt
  • 70g (1/3 cup) calcium-set tofu (uncooked weight)
  • 2 slices of soya and linseed bread fortified with extra calcium

Kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pak choi, cauliflower and watercress also contain well-absorbed calcium in smaller amounts.

How else can vegans look after their bones?

Calcium is just one piece of the puzzle. The absorption of this mineral is affected by vitamin D status, This is a particularly important consideration for people living in the UK because our bodies can’t make this ‘sunshine’ vitamin year-round.

Public health authorities recommend that we take a supplement during autumn and winter as a minimum. Vitamin D3 from lichen and D2 are animal-free options.

You can help to look after your bones by ensuring that your daily diet is varied and balanced, including greens rich in vitamin K, like broccoli and spinach, and adequate protein.

Vegans can easily obtain enough of the latter by including good sources in their meals, such as beans, lentils, peas, tofu, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and peanut butter.

Regular weight-bearing activity and a healthy weight are also thought to be important for bone health. If your weight is below the healthy range, there is less cushioning around your hips and you’re more likely to have less bone tissue.

Recipes for thriving

As part of our Vegan and Thriving campaign, The Vegan Society has published some helpful recipes at www.vegansociety.com/thriving.

Each one is well-balanced, including multiple portions of fruit and vegetables. Some of our Thriving recipes have been tagged with ‘Contains rich calcium source’, because they provide at least a third of a UK adult’s daily requirement.

Professional support

If you have osteoporosis and you’re considering dietary changes, it’s a good idea to talk to your local healthcare team. Consider asking for a referral to a dietitian for individualised nutrition advice.

For more vegan-friendly information about nutrition, check out the resources at vegansociety.com/nutrition, including using the free VNutrition app.

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. www.vegansociety.com

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