By Ghanim al-Sulaiti
A new study from an Oxford research team this week suggested that vegans have a higher risk of bone fracture than meat-eaters. Sensational headlines declared: “Vegans 43 percent more likely to suffer bone fractures,” study suggests. But the study authors admitted themselves that more research is required.
The study highlights that lower intakes of calcium and protein and a lower BMI were suggested as the reasons for the increased fracture risk among vegans.
Yes, vegans tend to weigh less than meat-eaters — and what this did for the study is make it difficult for them to match enough vegans and meat-eaters with a similar BMI to make meaningful comparisons. Very few vegans were in the higher BMI category. Only a relatively small number of meat-eaters had a low BMI. Generally, you are more likely to break a bone if your body mass index (BMI) is low. This is because there is less cushioning around your hips, and you are more likely to have less bone tissue.
Vegan diets that are low in calcium, Vitamin D, energy or protein and/or high in fibre could lead to poor bone health.
It’s true that scientists do believe a healthy vegan diet can provide the whole package of nutrients needed for healthy bones. This includes vitamins A, C, K and the B group, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, boron, iron, copper and zinc.
Research shows that physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking or running, is the most critical factor for maintaining healthy bones. This, followed by improving diet and lifestyle. This means eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Furthermore, the most current evidence suggests that protein is good for bones. In fact, in vegetarians, eating more protein-rich foods like beans and veggie meats, is associated with lower risk of fracture
It makes sense since bones form around a collagen-rich protein matrix. Protein may also enhance calcium absorption. It’s true that protein can also result in increased acid production, but the best way to counter that is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Although many people think of calcium in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk.
Similarly, a study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption. To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.
The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes. Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients. The exception is spinach, which contains a large amount of calcium but tends to hold onto it meaning you absorb less of it.
Beans are also loaded with calcium. There are more than 100 milligrams of calcium in a plate of baked beans. If you prefer chickpeas, tofu, or other bean or bean products, you will find plenty of calcium there, as well. These foods also contain magnesium, which your body uses along with calcium to build bones.
To keep it simple: get your protein from plants, not animal products. Get 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin each day. Exercise is important for keeping bones strong.
*The author is an expert in vegan wellbeing and health. Instagram handle: @Ghanim92
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