Magazine article Vegetarian Times

Good to the Bone

Magazine article Vegetarian Times

Good to the Bone

Article excerpt

Bones are a lot like the pipes in your home; until one snaps, you don't give them much thought. Some bone loss is a natural process of aging, but if this deterioration accelerates, you risk suffering a fracture. And nothing puts a damper on an active lifestyle quite like a stress fracture or a broken hip!

Affecting about 52 million Americans, osteoporosischaracterized by porous, frail bones-is often dubbed a silent disease, as you can go about your daily life symptom-free without realizing your bones are becoming dangerously brittle. While some risk factors are out of your control (e.g., women are about four times as likely as men to get osteoporosis), what you eat-and don't eatcan make a huge difference in bone health.


Those white-moustachioed athletes and Hollywood A-listers have hit us over the head with the fact that calcium helps build a healthy skeleton. "Bones account for about 99 percent of the body's total calcium stores," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. The other 1 percent participates in vital functions including muscular contraction and hormone regulation. "When there isn't enough calcium circulating around our bodies to participate in these other (functions], it's likely to be leached from the calcium bank in your bones. Over time all this borrowing weakens the skeleton," explains Somer. For this reason, she says, a steady supply of dietary calcium is essential.

Ask a random group of people on the street what food comes to mind when you say "calcium," and most folks will mention dairy. That's because dairy products are heavily marketed as the easiest and most reliable sources of calcium. So are dairy-free diets bad to the bone? Not really. "Among plantbased foods, fortified orange juice, non-dairy beverages, and cereals; calcium-set tofu; and greens such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, and collards provide ample amounts of highly absorbable calcium," says Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, co-author of Vegan for Life. In fact, studies involving vegetarians and vegans who eat a well-balanced diet with little or no dairy show their bones are generally no weaker than daily dairy eaters.

"Certainly dairy is a good source of calcium, but we don't always see a strong relationship between dairy intake and bone strength in research," notes Messina. Case in point: The Nurses Health Study involving more than 70,000 women found no association between milk consumption and a lower risk for hip fracture.

The role a glass of cold milk or a grilled cheese sandwich plays in the battle against osteoporosis is complicated. For starters, Messina says, different types of dairy foods provide different nutritional profiles that can impact bone health. "Some cheese is high in sodium, which may cancel out the benefit its calcium has on bone strength," she notes. Scientists are also finding that in addition to calcium, many other nutrients are crucial in keeping us fracture-free, both now and down the road.

Many people turn to supplements for calcium, but this is one case where you should beware the quick fix. "Some studies suggest high doses of supplemental calcium can raise the risk for heart disease," says Messina. This may occur through the calcification of our arteries. "This is why I take a foodfirst approach to calcium," Messina adds. If you suspect you aren't getting enough, she recommends supplementing with up to 500 milligrams of calcium, which is well below the tolerable upper intake levels set by the Food and Nutrition Board. Supplements generally come in two formscalcium citrate and calcium carbonate-both of which are absorbed well in the body. Regardless of form, don't wash it down with a glass of milk or fortified beverage. Your body absorbs calcium best in smaller increments of 500 milligrams or less.


In the pursuit of better bones, vitamin D is clutch. "In order to properly absorb and deposit calcium into your bones, you need vitamin D," explains Somer. …

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