by Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian
Bonnie was thinking about going vegan. Of all the dietary choices she had considered over the years, this made perfect sense and fit her values. Yet she wanted to be certain that her new way of eating would provide every essential nutrient. The women in her family were blessed with slim figures—and cursed with frail bones and eventual fractures. Magazine and TV ads and a pamphlet at her medical clinic (provided by the dairy industry) hammered home the message that milk products at every meal were her only choice. She didn’t want to be an ethical person with brittle bones! She began an information search that wasn’t linked to the dairy industry and came up with a summary that she posted on her fridge.
1. Eat dark green vegetables daily. Put broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy and Chinese (napa) cabbage on your shopping lists. Grow kale late into the fall; request greens in your weekly organic produce delivery. Learn delicious ways to prepare greens. (See Cooking Vegetarian by Forest and Melina). Steam vegetables for minimal mineral losses; use the cooking water in soups. These greens give you bone-building vitamin K, too.
2. Use calcium-set tofu. Tofu is versatile; it can be used in everything from soup to dessert without menus being repetitious. Check labels for calcium content. The isoflavones in soyfoods (tofu, tempeh, soymilk) are linked with reduced risk of bone fracture.
3. Rely on calcium-fortified beverages. Fortified non-dairy milks and juices help bring total calcium intake to recommended levels.
4. Make almonds, almond butter, sesame tahini, and blackstrap molasses a part of meals and snacks. By replacing 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with an equal amount of almond butter, you increase calcium intake by 73 mg. With a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses instead of jam, you boost your intake by 168 mg of calcium. These options provide iron and zinc too.
5. Don’t keep company with calcium thieves. Avoid high intakes of salt, alcohol, and caffeine; avoid a sedentary lifestyle; of course, don’t smoke. Not the difference in our habits with those of our ancestors and from other, more strong-boned cultures (as in the picture).
6. Add sunshine (or vitamin D) to your day. Stretch your legs and walk around the block on your lunch break. Like cow’s milk, nondairy beverages are fortified with a little vitamin D. From cloudy October to April, add a vitamin D supplement.
7. Exercise. Walk, jog, dance, play ball, hike, and step your way to lifelong bone health. Whether you are young or old, these activities cause bones to retain minerals. With bones, it’s a case of use ’em or lose ’em.
8. Top up your intakes with a supplement. If you doubt that you are reaching recommended intakes (1000 mg calcium daily from age 19; 1200 mg for women over age 50 and for men over 70), include supplementary calcium
9. Calcium is not the whole story. You’ll get the whole team of bone building nutrients from a plant-based diet. Even lettuce can play a significant part!
Bonnie took these messages to heart. Her next X-ray showed that her bone density had improved; she felt fit and powerful. On a September 2013 trip to Toronto, she saw strongman Patrik Baboumian set a world record by shouldering 550 kilos (1212 pounds) and carrying that weight for over 10 meters (32.8 feet), then letting out a roar and the words ‘vegan power.’
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author: www.nutrispeak.com, 604-882-6782. Her newest book is Becoming Vegan Express, co-authored with dietitian Brenda Davis (pictured here doing handstand and with Vesanto) and packed with great reading for optimal health.
- Becoming Vegan Express by B. Davis and V Melina, The Book Publ. Co., 2013