Veganism and Calcium: Stronger Bones

Is bone weakening with age inevitable?

Some bone loss over the years is a natural process. But if you develop osteoporosis, you risk a fracture—and more than one. It’s not just that your bones are losing calcium and other minerals; With osteoporosis, the bone itself deteriorates.

Fortunately, it is in our power to influence this aspect of health. In the fight against osteoporosis, the right diet and exercise will help.

How much calcium does my body need?

Less than you think. While the generally accepted recommended allowance is 1000 mg per day for young adults and 1200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70, research suggests otherwise. A study of 61 women, published in the British Medical Journal, found that 433 milligrams of calcium per day is sufficient, and intake beyond that is of little benefit.

The most beneficial sources of calcium are beans and leafy green vegetables, as they also contain many other nutrients. Among green vegetables, curly, leafy and Brussels sprouts and broccoli provide high absorption of calcium. But the calcium contained in spinach is poorly absorbed.

The role of dairy in the fight against osteoporosis has been controversial since the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed 72 women over 337 years, found that milk does not actually improve the chance of preventing fractures. Women who drank three or more glasses of milk a day had, on average, as many hip and arm fractures as those who drank little or no milk.

For better absorption of calcium, vitamin D is needed. In order for the body to have a sufficient amount of this vitamin, it is enough to warm your hands and face in the sun every day for 15 minutes. If you avoid the sun or use sunscreen, you should take special nutritional supplements.

Adults should take 15 micrograms of vitamin D per day, and people over 70 should take 20 micrograms per day. But since vitamin D is also a cancer-preventing substance, many health authorities advise consuming large amounts of vitamin D—about 50 micrograms per day.

What foods in my diet can weaken my bones?

When the diet includes chicken, fish, beef, or any other source of animal protein, the kidneys lose calcium much faster. Animal protein tends to remove calcium from the bloodstream through the kidneys into the urine. In an extreme case, a diet high in meat can increase calcium loss by more than 50% of calcium intake. This may explain why milk is not as effective in strengthening bones: milk does contain calcium, but it also contains animal protein, which can contribute to calcium loss.

Salty foods also increase calcium loss. The more sodium in the foods you eat, the more calcium your kidneys remove from your body.

Try to eat fresh or frozen green beans, cauliflower, and tomatoes more often—they contain almost no sodium. But canned vegetables, soups and sauces contain sodium in most cases, so try to look for such products without added salt. Potato chips, pretzels, and similar snacks are full of salt, as are most processed cheeses and meats, including bacon, salami, sausage, and ham. With all this in mind, try to consume no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day.

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