Bone health is a complex and multifactorial process. Bone mass accumulates most during the first couple decades of life. The more bone gained during this period, the less risk of osteoporosis you face later in life. Unfortunately, this critical window closes before most young people even hear the word osteoporosis. If you did know to focus on bone-building during your teenage years, what would you actually do? The same things you should do at any age to optimize bone density.
Interestingly, the number-one factor for improving and maintaining bone health isn’t at all food related: the best way to build bone is to perform weight-bearing exercise regularly. Resistance exercise improves bone density more than any dietary factor. Lift weights, walk, jog, jump, or do callisthenic exercises at least three or four times a week to keep your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and pliable.
Nutritional recommendations include eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, cutting out dairy, maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, and consuming plant-based sources of calcium every day.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone mineralization, working with calcium to break down old bone cells and build up new ones. You can be sure you’re getting enough vitamin D with a simple blood test. Remember from Chapter 3 that the ideal result of the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test is at least 50 ng/mL.
If you’re not there (like the vast majority of the population), try spending 15 to 20 minutes in the sun three times a week. Apply sunscreen only to your face, exposing your arms, legs, and whatever else you can reveal without offending the neighbors. The sun is the best source for vitamin D. Sun-derived D stays in the body the longest, and you can’t get vitamin D toxicity from the sun. The sun offers other health benefits—it releases feel-good endorphins and regulates your circadian rhythm.
If after a few weeks you’re still testing low, consider supplementing with vitamin D2. You can safely start out with 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day. If you’re deficient, taking 5,000 to 6,000 IU per day for two or three months is safe. Please check your blood levels before supplementing, and ask your physician to monitor and help you reach your goals.
Excerpted by permission from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition* by Julieanna Hever, MS, R.D., Alpha Books © 2011.
Julieanna Hever is a plant-based dietitian who is also a personal trainer and a health and nutrition counselor. Hever gives many lectures and writes columns for various publications. See the review of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking* on VegKitchen. Visit Julieanna’s web site, The Plant-Based Dietitian.
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