Bone health is dependent upon many interrelated factors that range from stress management and sleep, to nutrient intake and gut health. It is also important to highlight that the vitamins and minerals that your bones require for optimal development are influenced not only by the foods that you eat, but also by external factors that may be interfering with the absorption of these important nutrients! Let’s explore this further.
Eat a wide variety of brightly coloured plants
The most efficient method to go about maximising nutrient intake is to eat a wide variety of plant foods. A great place to start is to aim for 20 to 30 different types of plants each week. For example, try adding pumpkin and sunflower seeds to your morning porridge for added zinc intake and hemp seeds to your salad at lunch for anti-inflammatory benefits. Another easy addition to any meals is cooking with herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, mint, coriander and parsley.
Focus on protein
Calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and vitamin D and K2, are all important nutrients in the development and maintenance of bone health. These nutrients are found in a variety of foods but are mostly concentrated within protein sources. Aside from animal based protein (oily fish, poultry, eggs, red meat), plant based protein rich food sources include nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp, flax and chia), soy products such as tofu (bonus points if it is calcium set), legumes (chickpeas, black beans, lentils etc), whole-grains and pseudo-grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth). In addition to the suggestion above of increasing your variety of plant foods, try to include a protein source with each meal!
Minimise (or eliminate) caffeine, alcohol and smoking
As bones require a continual supply of minerals to maintain their strength and integrity, minimising external factors that may disrupt the process of minerals reaching the bones, is important. Excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol and smoking are all known disrupters of mineral (particularly calcium and magnesium) absorption and assimilation within the body. Aim for three to four alcohol free nights per week and reduce your intake of caffeine to a maximum of two coffees per day.
Reduce anti-nutrient factors
Although plants are imperative when it comes to our health, they also contain components within their structure, referred to as ‘anti-nutrient’ factors, that may block the availability of minerals. For example, raw spinach contains high amounts of oxalates which have the ability to bind to the calcium found within this plant. The best way to reduce oxalates and to increase calcium availability within spinach is to cook it - i.e. steam your spinach before adding to a smoothie! Phytates, found commonly within cereals, nuts, seeds and legumes, are another family of ‘anti-nutrient’ factors that have the potential to bind to minerals such as zinc and iron. Like oxalates, phytates can be reduced through cooking techniques. Soaking, sprouting, fermenting and pressure cooking are all wonderful options that will reduce phytate content.
These suggestions will give your body the best chance at gaining and absorbing all of the nutrients required for proper bone health!