PSA: Plant-Based Diet Is Better For Preventing Osteoporosis. Here's How To Do It Correctly

May 16, 2023

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is known as a “silent disease.” This means there is little indication one has it until something goes wrong. More likely to affect women than men, osteoporosis weakens bones due to lack of tissue regeneration. Essentially, as bone breaks down, new bone is not produced fast enough to replace it which leads to weaker and less dense bones. Weak bones are easier to break and can have prolonged, painful healing. Hormonal changes, prior medical conditions, and dietary deficiencies are all possible causes of osteoporosis. Diets low in protein, calcium, and vitamin D are known to raise your risk of developing osteoporosis. 

Preventing Osteoporosis

A study published in Osteoporosis International found that a plant-based diet can lower the risk of osteoporosis in older women if undertaken correctly. Although dairy is often touted as “bone-strengthening,” this study found that by consuming healthy, plant-based foods, women over 60 can reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis. Since nearly one in five women past age 50 have osteoporosis according to the CDC, this is huge news! 

The question remains, are plant-based diets more likely to prevent osteoporosis in younger populations? While there are no definitive answers yet, it appears that these diets are just as good at omnivore diets at preventing bone loss, providing they include necessary vitamins and minerals. Additionally, plant-based diets offer a wide array of other benefits.  These include reduced environmental impact, immune support, and lower risk of heart disease. Plant-based diets have many upsides, and there are easy ways to lessen the likelihood of developing osteoporosis while following one. Read on to discover some preventative measures, no dairy needed!

Eat a variety of plant-based, calcium rich foods

Did you know that tofu has more calcium than milk? The average adult needs roughly 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day (although this varies depending on age, body type, and sex). Lots of plant-based foods are great sources of calcium. The calcium in many of these foods is actually more readily absorbed by the body than that in animals products. Tofu, dark leafy greens, beans, almonds, tahini and molasses are all great foods to meet your calcium goals.

Vitamin D increases Calcium absorption

Vitamin D deficiency makes it more difficult for your body to absorb essential bone strengthening vitamins and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Unfortunately, few plant-based foods contain significant amounts of Vitamin D. Plant milks and juices are often fortified with Vitamin D for this reason. Fortified tofu can also be a way to get this nutrient. However, it is important for vegans to verify that fortified foods they consume are not utilizing animal products. There are different types of Vitamin D: Vitamin D2, which is always vegan, and Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 may be derived from plant based sources (lichen), or from sheep’s wool. Some popular juice brands use animal-derived Vitamin D3 in their fortification process. 

Mushrooms are another potential source of Vitamin D. They have the ability to make Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Alas, many commercially sold mushrooms are grown in dark environments. This limits their ability to produce Vitamin D. Finding mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight may be easier at a health food store or farmers market. If you have a forager friend, wild mushrooms also will have been exposed to sunlight and contain more Vitamin D. Be sure that if you eat wild mushrooms, you have identified them correctly as some varieties can be poisonous. If you are unable to consume dietary sources of Vitamin D, it is possible to find vegan supplements. 

It can be difficult to get Vitamin D from food while following a vegan diet. Luckily there is one other amazing way to ensure your body has it… the sun! Your body can actually produce its own Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Although the amount sun exposure needed depends on many different factors, it’s a great reminder that going outside is healthy for both our mental state and our physical well being. 

If you smoke tobacco, this is another reason to quit

According to the CDC, in 2021 11.5% of American adults were cigarette smokers, which is a significant decline in recent years. Smoking and other tobacco use can lead to a higher chance of developing osteoporosis.  

Something additional to consider is that although cigarette use is declining, recent years have seen rising popularity in e-cigarettes or “vapes”. Although research is still in its infancy on how vaping affects long term health, data suggests that it may lead to an increase in risk for bone density loss. 

Do weight-bearing exercises

Weight bearing exercises strengthen bones and make them more resilient to bone loss. This type of exercise includes cardio activities such as walking, running, HIIT workouts, hiking, skipping rope, and many others. Weight bearing exercise can also include strength training using body weight or added weight. Looking for some weight bearing workouts to get you started? Check out these ones from the Peaceful Dumpling community: 

Exercises that improve balance, such as Pilates or Yoga, can also be beneficial. Although they are not weight bearing exercises, they build balance and flexibility which can help prevent falls that may lead to broken bones. 

Why Does Preventing Bone Disease Matter?

Preventing and managing osteoporosis can significantly improve quality of life. Osteoporosis rates are projected to increase in coming years. Since osteoporosis can cause limited mobility and prolonged pain, this disease could have a profound impact on many people. Adopting easy habits to help prevent osteoporosis could profoundly lower prevalence and protect your bones.  

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Photo: Vince Lee via Unsplash; Andrew Ridley via Unsplash

Willow Lynn
Willow Lynn is an animal and outdoors loving vegan. Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains, she is now lucky to live in Hawaii. Willow enjoys reading, writing, gardening and hiking.


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