Fruits and veggies make for strong bones

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When it comes to bone health, calcium is a vitally important component of our diet. But what else helps to keep our bones strong and healthy?

For women, peak bone mass is generally reached during their 20s and 30s when the skeleton has stopped growing and bones are at their maximum strength. Bone health becomes particularly important to women during middle-age and/or post menopause. The Australasian Menopause Society reports that ‘the average woman loses up to 10% of her bone mass in the first five years after menopause.’

This loss comes from the drop in oestrogen levels after menopause, which can result in bone loss and increases a woman’s risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

The evidence

A 2015 study investigated the effect of increased fruit and vegetable consumption on the rate of bone turnover and urinary calcium loss. The study involved two intervention groups prescribed to eat 9 or more servings a day of fruit and vegetables. However, one group was prescribed specific vegetables with phytochemicals thought to have bone-protective effects.

This became known as the Scarborough Fair Diet and included more alkaline producing vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber, leeks, green beans, prunes, citrus fruits, garlic, and herbs—including parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Both groups showed significantly reduced urinary calcium losses. The group following the Scarborough Fair Diet also showed positive changes in markers of bone turnover and calcium conservation.

Interestingly, onion consumption alone was associated with improved bone density in women over 50, with those consuming the highest amounts significantly reducing their risk of hip fractures.

The science

Diets rich in fruit and vegetables protect the health of our bones by providing important nutrients such as potassium, fibre, polyphenols and a decreased sodium intake. Sodium is known to leach calcium from the bones, but a plant-based diet with a favourable ratio of sodium to potassium can help to minimise mineral losses.

The diet also reduces dietary acidity, which alleviates hypercalciuria (presence of calcium in the urine)—a sign of calcium loss from the bones. A diet rich in phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables may also reduce inflammation and bone loss associated with ageing.

The dietary advice

Consume a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least 9 servings per day, especially those listed on the Scarborough Fair Diet.

Other dietary and lifestyle factors for healthy bones:

  • Consume a healthy balanced diet and ensure you have an adequate intake of protein. This helps to maintain muscle mass and support your skeletal frame.
  • Consume adequate calcium through your diet. Aim for 3-5 serves per day of calcium-rich foods, for instance, milk, yoghurt, cheese, soy, nuts/seeds and leafy green vegetables.
  • Include a vitamin D supplement daily. Vitamin D aids calcium absorption!
  • Get some healthy omega 3 fats daily, for instance, fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines) and nuts/seeds.
  • Include some weight-bearing exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, skipping, basketball/netball, tennis, dancing, impact aerobics, stair walking.
  • Limit your intake of salt (sodium).
  • Moderate your intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.

Category: Lifestyle, Physical Health

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