World Osteoporosis Day, 20 October, is a good time to bone up on osteoporosis and take steps to reduce your risk for broken bones and fractures. But before you race to the store to buy cows’ milk, know that osteoporosis is not generally caused by inadequate calcium intake but rather by rapid calcium loss. If you want to build and maintain strong bones, dumping dairy products and eating a wholesome vegan diet is a good place to start.
Dairy products contain a significant amount of protein and sodium, and studies suggest that not only does dairy consumption not reduce osteoporotic bone loss, it also might even contribute to it. A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women found that those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than did women who rarely drank milk.
People living in countries with the lowest calcium intake rates tend to have fewer fractures than do those living in countries with higher rates. This is likely because the countries with high calcium intake rates also tend to have high protein intake rates from consuming large amounts of meat and dairy products.
But because vegans don’t consume the excessive protein found in meat, eggs and dairy products, they are able to process calcium more efficiently than meat-eaters can. And vegans tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, which help stave off osteoporosis because they contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K and other nutrients needed for healthy bones.
Leafy greens, beans, almonds, broccoli, butternut squash, figs, oats, seeds, soya and tahini (a Mediterranean sesame paste) are especially good sources of calcium and other essential nutrients.
Vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium, isn’t naturally present in many foods, but it is added to some common foods. You can get vitamin D—without the fat and cholesterol found in cows’ milk—from fortified soya and rice milks, orange juice and cereals as well as from supplements and, of course, sunshine.
If you exercise, refrain from smoking, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and cut salt, meat, cheese and cows’ milk out of your diet, you can reduce your risk for osteoporosis. Weaning yourself from dairy products will also help animals and the environment.
By Bhuvaneshwari Gupta, nutritionist