Don’t we need milk for strong bones?

No, we need calcium (and Vitamin D) but those who think that calcium can only be found in milk may have fallen victim to the milk marketers’ hype.

Most of the calcium in our bodies can be found in our bones and if we don’t get enough in our diet, our bodies will take calcium from the bones which can weaken them. The loss of too much calcium can lead to osteoporosis later in life. So, obviously, we need calcium in our diets and a good dose of Vitamin D to help absorb it, and both can be found in abundance in a healthy vegan diet.

You can boost your intake of calcium with dried figs, fortified plant milks and yoghurts, tofu, beans (especially black turtle beans, kidney beans and soya beans), kale, collards, watercress, broccoli, sweet potato and butternut squash. (Spinach has loads of calcium but it is poorly absorbed due to the oxalic acid in the leaves.)

As for Vitamin D, there is no better source than the sun and 15 minutes of exposure a day during spring, summer and autumn should suffice so long as face, hands and arms are exposed. But for those who don’t spend time outside, or who live in northern latitudes or have darker skin, look out for dairy-free margarines, breakfast cereals and breads that are fortified with it. You may also consider a supplement.

We are also advised to limit caffeine and avoid smoking, as both increase calcium loss from the body.

Good bone health is not all about the foods we eat and those we should avoid. Exercise is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our bones, and the exercise we choose should be weight bearing i.e. you should be standing up or literally bearing weights. Walking, running, dancing, playing tennis or football, and lifting weights in the gym are all good for bone health. (Swimming and cycling are great in other ways but are not so good for strengthening bones.)

So our advice for great bone health is: eat your greens, pull on your trainers and go for a run in the sunshine!

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