You must have heard it a thousand times – “you’re vegan, be careful to get enough calcium!” But bone health is about more than just calcium!
Healthy Sources of Calcium
We need around 700mg of calcium a day but we don’t have to get it from cows.
Eating a plant-based diet can easily provide you with sufficient calcium (from leafy green veggies, sesame seeds, tahini, chia seeds, blackcurrants and figs) but also offers significant advantages over dairy when it comes to overall bone health.
Casein can Damage the Gut
Cows’ milk contains a protein called casein which is associated with increased inflammation in the intestines. Once the delicate gut lining becomes damaged and inflamed, we have a harder time absorbing the vitamins and minerals in our food – including calcium and magnesium.
Plant Protein Beats Animal Protein
100ml of cows’ milk contains 3g protein, and we need protein in our diets for energy, growth and repair. Protein is found in animal and plant products, but they are not the same. Protein from animals is associated with a range of health conditions, while one study found that a diet rich in animal protein is associated with a greater risk of early death.
Protein from plants does not come with these risks.
Two Kinds of Vitamin A
There are two types of Vitamin A. The first is preformed vitamin A which is found in animal products, including dairy. The second type is provitamin A, which is found in plants, with the most common type being the carotenoid, beta-carotene. Population-based studies have linked high dietary intake of the animal-based preformed vitamin A to greater risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture. In contrast, carotenoids are associated with improved bone health.
Good bone health requires vitamin K, which helps keep calcium in the bones and away from the blood vessels.
Cows’ milk – like other animal products – contains very little vitamin K but it can be found plentifully in green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli, as well as in grains and vegetable oils.
Bone Health is More Than Diet
Calcium and vitamin K are important, but there is more to having strong healthy bones. We need vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin. We also need to do weight-bearing exercise such as running, dancing or lifting weights. Finally, smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures and should be avoided.
PAGE UPDATED MAY 2020