Introduction to Vegan Bone Health
Vegan bone health is a big deal. The health of your bones will carry you through old age with either grace and strength or weakness and fractures – or worse.
If the bones are not cared for throughout life, they lose density and can break or fracture easier.
Osteoporosis is scary because most people do not see it coming until something is broken. It is silent in the body.
This can limit our abilities in old age.
All of this may have you worried if you are transitioning to a vegan diet. You may wonder if you can have incredible bone health as a vegan.
This can also cause problems for people who have been vegan for a while but haven’t paid attention to their bones and the diet that nourishes them.
It is important to stay on top of bone health throughout life.
Bone density seems to peak at around 30. After this, they begin to lose more density than they gain – a little is normal and okay.
This information lets us know that we need to pay attention to the nutrients and activities that promote bone health, especially over the age of 30.
Your Incredible Bones
Your bones are incredible.
Unlike the common idea that bones are rigid and lifeless, they are, in reality, alive and constantly in communication with the blood to release or absorb minerals and other substances.
Bones contain a rich blood and nerve supply and are under constant change.
This means you can improve your bone health at any given moment. But how?
Vegans shouldn’t have to suffer through their golden years just because they didn’t know better. You can have strong bones just by eating certain foods and taking specific actions.
In this article, you will learn:
- all about your bones and what they are doing in the body
- the nutrients and foods needed for long-lasting bone health
- the things that may be a hindrance to strong and healthy bones
It is possible to have an amazingly healthy vegan skeleton, and why not start today!
What Are Bones?
As mentioned above, bones are living and constantly changing. They have a rich supply of blood and nerves to make mineral exchanges quick and easy.
Bones are surrounded by a flexible almost knitted layer of tissue to help them attach to muscles and ligaments.
There is then a thin layer of compact bone that gives them a solid appearance.
Right underneath this solid layer is spongy bone (looks like a sponge with tiny holes throughout).
In this area, depending on the bone, you will find either yellow and/or red bone marrow. Yellow marrow acts as storage for fat in the body. Red marrow is where red and white blood cells are made.
Your bones have many functions – more than holding up our fleshy meat sacks:
- movement – with the aid of muscles
- producing blood cells
The storage function is where calcium comes in. The bones store compounds that are needed by the body in the spongy bone area.
Your blood keeps its calcium levels within a very small range, so when there is too much in the blood, the bones will absorb it.
The opposite is also true. When the blood levels of calcium dip too low, the bones give it up from storage.
The Functions of Calcium
The body needs calcium for many important functions:
- electrical communication necessary for:
- nerve signaling
- muscle contraction and growth
- heart function
- blood clotting
- many enzyme and hormone functions
Knowing these functions, it makes sense that the level of calcium in the blood is kept very narrow.
Side note > This is why a blood test for calcium levels won’t tell you anything about your bone health.
Calcium in the blood is more important than stored in the bones.
Just think if your body chose storage over your heart beating… that wouldn’t last long.
As vegans, it is important to be aware of your calcium intake.
Calcium-Rich Foods for Vegan Bone Health
Luckily for us vegans, there are some delicious sources of calcium that you are likely already eating:
- almonds/almond butter
- leafy greens – bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard
- calcium-set tofu
- foods fortified with calcium – plant milk and juice, cereal
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- blackstrap molasses
It is suggested to eat 5-6 servings of calcium-rich foods daily. A serving is 1/2 cup or 2 tablespoons of almonds, almond butter, blackstrap molasses, sesame and sunflower seeds, and tahini.
How to Avoid Excess Calcium Leaching From Bones
When blood has too little calcium, a cascade of events occurs that results in the bones releasing calcium to help maintain the functions listed above.
If this happens too much, the bones will lose calcium too fast.
So when does the blood take calcium from bones?
- when calcium and magnesium levels are too low in the blood resulting in the bones releasing calcium into the blood
- when the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is off. These two minerals have an inverse relationship in the blood, so high phosphorus levels promote calcium excretion through the kidneys. You then need more calcium to make up for the excess phosphorus or more calcium will be leached from the bones as needed.
- Most of the foods higher in phosphorus are animal products – meat, milk – but there is one to watch – pop. It affects the blood as described above.
Your bones and blood are doing an intricate dance all day, every day.
When you understand what is going on, you can make choices that help make the bones healthier now and long into the future.
More Bone-Friendly Nutrients Every Vegan Needs
Everyone knows that calcium and bones go hand in hand, but there are others that need your attention as well.
Below is a list of other nutrients necessary for bone health and some foods that contain them:
- vitamin D – sun exposure, supplementation
- silicon – alfalfa, beets, corn, onions, peppers, potatoes
- protein – legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, nuts and nut butters
- magnesium – whole grains, leafy greens
- boron – fruits, prunes, nuts, raisins, vegetables
- vitamin K – is created in the gut, so the health of the gut lining is important. Fermented foods help with this. Leafy greens.
- vitamin B complex – whole grains, supplementation (especially B12)
By eating a variety of foods, you will get these nutrients without having to put too much conscious effort into each meal.
With the exceptions of vitamin D and vitamin B12. These are two you will want to supplement.
To learn more about vitamin D and B12, as well as how to supplement them, check out this article.
There are no reliable food sources of these other than fortified products.
Being a vegan and having healthy bones is possible.
Loss of bone density can happen to anyone eating any diet, so we know it is not specifically a vegan problem.
If loss of bone density is something you are worried about, follow the steps above, eat the foods, and move your body. This will be a great start.
The pounding of your feet against the ground builds bone as well as all the stuff listed above.
Walking, jogging, and even resistance training like weights help to build up that bone density.
It would also be advantageous to have your bone density tested if it runs in your family or you think maybe you haven’t been too kind to your bones up until now.
When you are or when you want to be vegan, know that there is always a workaround for whatever issue you are facing.
It may take some time and research to find out how, but it’s possible!
Good luck on your vegan journey.
If any questions come up for you, email Carly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am always happy to help.
Yours in plant love,