Plant powered bone strength
This article will focus on plant based options for strong, break-resistant bones. First however, I must de-emphasize the practice of focusing on a couple "key" nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D (currently the most popular and politically correct nutrients for improving bone “strength”). There is a large synergistic interplay with several other nutrients (and likely others we just haven’t learned enough about yet), as well as with physical activity. I can supply my body (and in turn, my bones) with all the “building blocks” and resources needed to construct and maintain bones of steel but if I do not provide my body with a good reason to utilize all this extra stuff, my bones may not respond as I want or need. How to pass this info onto my microscopic bone builders? Exercise. I’ll do a future post on exactly what kinds are the best but I wanted to make it clear that although nutrition is key here, physical activity is needed to carry the plan through.
Getting back to it, calcium and vitamin D are important. Calcium is stored in bones and released when needed for other functions such as nerve conduction and muscle contraction. If my diet is calcium deficient, more must be extracted from storage (bones) to make up for it. If more calcium is extracted from bones than is being added, that could mean less bone “strength” over time. Keep in mind, bone tissue is extremely dynamic and minerals such as calcium (phosphate and magnesium too) are in constant flux and that is normal and necessary. Hence, once understood, this concept underscores why its important that we eat a balanced diet that includes rich sources of these nutrients.
We already know that dairy sources are the best and easiest way to get calcium in our diets. There are some potent plant based sources which include vegetables such as collards, kale, broccoli, bok choy, and turnip. Other plant sources include dried figs, tofu (look for those with calcium sulfate), almonds, and tahini (the paste made from mashing sesame seeds). All of these options make great snacks or compliments to your salad. Nutritional all stars such as spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens, leafy greens that contain significant amounts of calcium, also contain high amounts of compounds called oxalates, which bind calcium, thus making it difficult to extract during digestion. Those guys do belong in a healthy diet but they don’t make our plant-powered bone strength list.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin necessary for calcium absorption, playing important roles in muscle function, as well as growth and development. The best way to get this vitamin is to spend time in daylight, without sunscreen. This nutrient is so important that we can synthesize it directly from sunlight. How much sunlight? Ten to thirty minutes a day, midday is best. The amount of time you spend is governed by your sensitivity to sunlight. Be smart, if your skin is sensitive to sunlight, start with five to ten minute bouts, don’t burn yourself. For plant based dietary options, look for fortified plant milks (soy, oat, almond) as well as fortified cereals, and plant based yogurt alternative like soy yogurt. The only whole food plant source of vitamin D appears to be mushrooms, amounts vary depending on the type, Portobello and Chanterelle are good choices.
Though it does not get the “press” is deserves, adequate magnesium is also critical for bone health. This mineral influences parathyroid function, an endocrine organ that regulates calcium absorption in bone. Get this, without sufficient magnesium, we cannot metabolize (pull it from storage for use) vitamin D. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium as it is, so those who prefer strong bones should avoid that crowd. Plant sources include: Quinoa, cocoa powder (natural cacao is best), pumpkin seeds, cashews, walnuts, and whole grains such as buckwheat and oats.
So, this piece focused on plant sources of important nutrients for building and maintaining strong, break resistant bones. Though calcium and vitamin D are important minerals for building strong, resilient bones they are not the only nutrients we need. Other nutrients, magnesium is one, are important as well, as is exercise. I’ll chime in again with some more plant based bone building nutrients, as always, please remember the interplay among nutrients in our diet as well as our lifestyle is complex, and we do best when our diets include a variety of mostly whole foods, similar but not limited to the examples mentioned above.
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Published by mattktraining
I am currently the Owner of my soloprenuerial company Matt K Training. Through my fitness and nutrition programs I help adults develop skills and practices that help them eat, move, and recover well. Over the past 20 years, in various roles such as a Personal trainer, Exercise Physiologist, Clinical Researcher, and Health Coach I have helped hundreds of adults reach their health and physical performance goals. When not working, I enjoy active pursuits such as playing right field for the Charlton Giants (in a 38+ competitive baseball league), playing tennis, hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. I also enjoy indoor activities such as playing strategy board games, reading and discussing science fiction literature, dabbling with my guitar, finding creative ways to eat oatmeal, and being a good dad.