Every June, Men’s Health Month is celebrated across the country, and this month some attention has been drawn to an issue that men may need to be more aware of: Osteoporosis. Up until now, Osteoporosis has primarily been thought of as a women’s disease, but this bone-thinning condition is now affecting 1 in 4 men over 50.
Many people are under the impression that Osteoporosis is a disease of inadequate calcium intake, and sadly, we are taught to avoid this condition by increasing consumption of animal-based foods such as milk and other dairy products.
It’s true that calcium is an essential nutrient in our diet and that deficiency is potentially serious, but consuming sufficient calcium is not the end of the Osteoporosis story. When it comes to the use of animal products for ‘healthy bones,’ it seems that many consumers might unknowingly be doing their bodies more harm than good.
Although animal milks do contain calcium, they also leach calcium from our bones. How does this happen? Animal protein contains high levels of sulphur-containing amino acids, including cysteine and methionine. In the body, sulphur transforms to sulphates, which then acidify in the blood. This process causes the body to try and neutralize this acid, and the way it does that is by dissolving bone into the blood stream, which then passes out through the kidneys and into the urine.
And just like calcium, all proteins are not created equal either. Unlike animal proteins, vegan proteins, which are abundant in the plant-food world, have never been shown to have this effect.
For optimal bone protection, we do need calcium in our diets, but we also need to make healthy choices to keep this calcium in our bones. If animal proteins cause the body to actually weaken its own bones, then they’re more foe than friend when it comes to fortifying the body against osteoporosis.
So… When we eliminate animal products from our diet, where do we turn for sources of calcium? Thankfully, there are many powerful ways to meet your daily calcium requirement as a vegan. Here are a few suggestions:
Green Leafy Vegetables
Leafy greens are not only packed with calcium, but they’re also rich in vitamin K, which is another key component to increasing bone density. Collards, Kale, and Swiss Chard are all good examples. Spinach is another leafy green, but it’s said that it tends to hold onto its calcium, providing the body with less to absorb, so eating other varieties of green veggies might be more beneficial. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are two other excellent vegetable sources of calcium.
Beans and Legumes
Beans are filled with calcium, along with high levels of magnesium, which is said to work along with calcium to help us build bone strength. Chickpeas, tofu, lentils and other pulses are all power-packed foods to include in your diet.
Orange Juice, Plant Milks & Fortified Foods
Orange Juice is an excellent concentrated source of calcium, containing over 300 milligrams per cup. Almond milk, soymilk and other fortified foods also provide another valuable way to increase our calcium intake.
Getting enough vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, as it controls the body’s use of calcium, assisting its ability to absorb it. They say 15 minutes of sun a day allows your body to produce all the vitamin D it needs. For those living in cooler climates, check out these other vegan sources of vitamin D.
But nutrition isn’t everything either. There are many factors to keeping your bones strong and healthy, and once you take steps to get more calcium in your diet, it’s also important to do the right things to keep calcium in your bones:
The more active you are, the better chance you have of keeping calcium in your bones. It’s suggested that weight-bearing exercises in particular help the body to resist gravity and stimulate cell growth, encouraging new bone production.
Cutting Back on Caffeine and Sodium
Too much caffeine is said to increase risks of bone fractures in people over 50, and sodium in foods can increase calcium loss through the kidneys. It’s a good idea to avoid canned, processed and packaged foods that have added sodium, as well as reducing the amount of table salt added to your meals.
Smoking, Alcohol & Medications
Smoking is said to be a major factor in bone loss. Smokers are more than 40% at higher risk of a fracture due to loss of calcium. Alcohol can weaken the bones by reducing your body’s ability to create new bone. Certain medications, including Prednisone and other steroids, can be key culprits in bone loss.
As we can see, although Osteoporosis is something that affects many people, we don’t have to feel disempowered by it, though it is important to understand the role of calcium and what it means to make healthful changes in our diet and lifestyle.
As well as increasing one’s intake of fresh vegetables, beans, and whole foods in general, there are many other steps we can take toward insuring good bone health, including regular exercise, sensible time in the sun for vitamin D, and avoiding things that do unnecessary damage to the body.
Finally, making sure your protein and other nutrients are coming from plants rather than animals is one of the very best things you can do for your body, including for the purpose of avoiding Osteoporosis.
Image courtesy of: Naypong, cool design, and graur razvan donut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net