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Bone Health and Plant-Based Diet

  • Health & Wellness
  • 26 Sep 2017

Can a plant-based diet help to prevent our bones from osteoporosis and reduced bone mineral density? This question may always pop up in your mind when you plan to opt for a plant-based diet. This article will help to resolve those doubts.

A healthy and balanced diet is the only option to promote your bone health because it ensures that you get all the nutrients required for healthy bones. It is a matter of concern for those who want to choose plant-based diet because they are not sure if they will suffer a nutritional deficiency, increasing their risk of developing osteoporosis.

A plant-based diet is primarily a mixture of all kinds of fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, grains, nut, and seeds. It excludes any form of meat, fish or poultry and any foods derived from animals like eggs, dairy products, and honey.

Does a plant-based diet increase the risk of osteoporosis or affects bone health and cause fragility fractures?

To answer this question, we need to understand that plant-based diet only differs in the sources of food and not in the nutritional quotient. Nutritional quotient in a plant-based diet is the same as an animal-based diet. For example, dairy products are always considered as the only source of calcium.  However, there are other non-dairy calcium rich foods available which include fortified soya products, pulses, nuts, seeds and white bread. Additionally, fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamin K, minerals like magnesium, potassium, etc. which helps to build healthy bones. Also, vegetarians eat a lot of soya products like tofu which is rich in protein. Soya products and soya beans contain a natural phytoestrogen, known as isoflavones. It promotes bone health, especially in post-menopausal women.  Also, green kiwi fruit is found to promote bone health.1

Getting the essential nutrients, you need for your bones from plant-based diet

Calcium: Normally, adults require 700 mg of calcium daily. Apart from calcium, other minerals and vitamins are also important for your bone health.  A lot of people avoid milk as it contains saturated fat, cholesterol, allergenic proteins, lactose sugar and frequent traces of contamination. There are many rich sources of calcium found in plant-based foods like soya milk, curly kale, figs, etc. The vegetarians who know how to balance their diet with calcium rich foods, there cannot be any adverse effect due to deficiency of calcium. People with a deficiency of calcium can always opt for calcium supplements to ensure healthy bones and reduce the risk of fracture.2

However, it is also important to understand the reason for calcium loss. Like high-protein diet from animal-based food products causes calcium loss through urine. This is the reason that vegetarians have stronger bones than the non-vegetarians. Diets high in sodium also cause calcium loss through urine. Smoking and caffeine intake also increases the loss of calcium from the body.

Vitamin D:  It usually helps your body to absorb and use calcium. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D that provides 80-90 percent of the required Vitamin D. For those who follow a plant-based diet and have a deficiency of vitamin D can also take supplement vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), which is formed of irradiated fungi. However, it is always advisable to consult your physician before taking any supplements.

Vitamin B complex: Vitamin B complex play a major role in bone health, and a deficiency of vitamin B12 increases the risk of fracture. It is mainly found in animal-based food. So, people who follow plant-based diet may need to take supplements in case of deficiency of vitamin B12.

Protein: In animal-based food products, the protein comprises a major portion. Excess or deficiency of protein may lead to reduced strength of bones and thereby increases the risk of fracture. The exclusion of animal-based diet may result in a potential compromise in the level of standard requirements of essential amino acids. Therefore, people who depend on a plant-based diet should adequately eat soy products, nuts, grains, and beans, etc. which are a rich source of plant-based protein.

Many types of  research show that people who follow plant-based whole food diet have the same BMD (Bone Mineral Density) as individuals who follow an animal-based diet.

Reference:

1. Kruger MC et al. Effects of Soy Phytoestrogens and New Zealand Functional Foods on Bone Health. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2015; 61 Suppl:S142-4.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26598831

2. Tucker KL. Vegetarian diets and bone status. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:329S-35S.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898237

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