While going vegan can give one a great deal of satisfaction, especially with regard to a greener footprint on the planet, there are some factors which, if left out of the diet, can cause deficiencies that need to be addressed.
The hard truth is that a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, can have both positive and negative effects on bone health. While a well-planned and balanced vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients for maintaining strong bones, there are certain nutrients of concern that need to be addressed in a different way to ensure that you continue to receive the value your body requires.
So while you may be studiously following a healthy vegan diet, and caring for the environment along the way, there are factors to consider for maintaining optimal bone health.
Aspects that need attention when following a vegan diet
This is always one of the essential nutrients for building and maintaining strong bones. While dairy products are commonly known as the primary source of calcium, vegans can obtain sufficient amounts of this mineral from plant-based sources such as: fortified plant milks, tofu, tempeh, almonds, sesame seeds, kale, and broccoli. It is crucial for vegans to ensure an adequate intake of calcium to meet their daily requirements, which may vary depending on age and gender.
Vitamin D presents as another crucial nutrient for bone health as it aids in the absorption of calcium. Direct sunlight exposure is the most effective way to obtain vitamin D, but vegan sources can include: fortified plant-based milk, mushrooms, and supplements derived from lichen or yeast. Vegans should be mindful of their Vitamin D levels and consider regular sunlight exposure or supplementation, especially in regions with limited sun exposure.
Sometime we forget this value, but protein plays a significant role in bone health due to its contribution to the structure and strength of bones. Vegans can obtain ample protein from sources such as: legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, nuts, and seeds. A well-planned vegan diet that includes a variety of protein-rich foods has been proven to provide sufficient protein for bone health.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Long associated with robust bone health, Omega-3 must be a focus of attention with regard to any vegan diet. While fish is a common source of Omega-3, vegans can obtain it from microalgae-based supplements, as well as plant-based sources such as: flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. It is important not to skip making an effort to ensure an adequate intake, because supporting your overall bone health is vital for ensuring sturdy bones in old age.
Give this nutrient particular attention. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, and its deficiency can lead to bone abnormalities and an increased risk of fractures. Vegans should consider supplementation or consume fortified foods such as: plant-based milks, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast, which are often usefully enriched with Vitamin B12.
Anti-nutrients: Phytates and Oxalates
Potential concern for bone health in a vegan diet is the presence of antinutrients such as phytates and oxalates in certain plant foods. Phytates, found in grains, legumes, and nuts, can bind to minerals like calcium, reducing their absorption. Soaking, fermenting, or sprouting these foods can help decrease the levels of phytates and improve mineral absorption. Oxalates, found in foods like spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb, can interfere with calcium absorption but can be minimised by steaming or boiling these foods.
To optimise bone health on a vegan diet, it is essential to maintain a well-rounded and varied diet. Consuming a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds ensures a diverse nutrient intake. Additionally, regular exercise, particularly weight-bearing activities like walking, jogging, or resistance training, is crucial for bone health regardless of dietary choices.
NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)
NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.