Question:

I would like to increase my bone density. Do you have any suggestions for me regarding the best vegan foods to eat?

Very respectfully,

– Brenda H.

Answer:

Congratulations on providing the first bone density inquiry to Living Healthy! Your answer follows. First, here’s a brief primer on bone mineralization for the rest of our audience: Bone is actually a living tissue with blood supply to the marrow and cells that are adding tissue (osteoblasts) while others remove it (osteoclasts). The main structural compound is hydroxyapatite, made from the minerals calcium and phosphorus. Bone also contains small amounts of magnesium, sodium and bicarbonate. Density refers to the mass of the bone mineral material in a certain volume. Peak bone mass occurs around age thirty years. Keeping bones strong and avoiding loss of the matrix helps to prevent a porous condition later in life called osteoporosis.  

How to Increase Bone Density 

Diet and physical activity are controllable lifestyle factors that account for 10–50% of bone mass and structure. Physical activity stresses the bone to adapt and strengthen. Maintaining an adequate weight allows optimal pressure from gravity against the ground. Not smoking and avoiding heavy alcohol use prevents mineral loss due to tobacco products and drinking. 

A well-balanced diet is important for bone health throughout the lifespan though notably significant are calcium and vitamin D. As mentioned previously, calcium is a major mineral component of bone structure while vitamin D assists in calcium absorption and utilization. The majority of the body’s phosphorus and magnesium are found in the skeleton. Other micronutrients that appear to play a positive role in bone health include vitamins B12, C and K, and minerals copper, manganese, zinc, potassium and iron. 

Vegan diets abundant in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that are not excessive in sodium or caffeine can promote optimal bone density, but may need to be supplemented in certain areas. The strongest plant sources of the aforementioned nutrients are dark green leafy vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, beans, mushrooms exposed to light, almonds, blackstrap molasses, okra, calcium-set tofu, fortified nut milks, nut butters, brown rice, dried figs, chia seeds, potatoes, citrus fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, dried coconut and cocoa. Supplements of vitamin B12 are advised for vegans since it is not found in plant foods. 

Sources: 

  1. Office of the Surgeon General (US). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2004. 6, Determinants of Bone Health. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45503/ 
  2. Sharon Palmer. Protecting Bone Health Among Vegans. Today’s Dietitian, February 2016; 18 (2): 24. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0216p24.shtml Accessed 11/22/2019 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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