A vegetarian diet continues to gain popularity. It consists of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, healthy fats, and proteins. It sometimes includes eggs and dairy but does not allow for any meat, poultry, or seafood. People choose this specific diet for many reasons. These include religious views, concerns about the welfare of animals, wanting to spare environmental resources, health beliefs, and concerns about the use of antibiotics and hormones. It may also be an important part of someone’s culture or due to ease of accessibility.
A recent study shows that a vegetarian diet may put certain populations at risk for hip fractures1. This research was based on middle-aged women ranging from 35-69 years of age. They compared outcomes grouped in categories of meat-eaters (?5 times per week), pescatarian (ate fish but not meat), or vegetarian. The findings indicate that middle-aged women who never eat meat may be more likely to break a hip than those who regularly eat meat and/or fish.
More research is needed to determine if this same risk applies to men. Also, to find out why vegetarian women are at greater risk. Researchers suspect it is related to nutrient deficiencies and a low Body Mass Index (BMI). Participants in the study who followed a vegetarian diet did have a lower BMI than participants who ate meat.
While it is possible to get the nutrients needed with a vegetarian diet, studies have found a decreased intake of calories and vitamin B12 by those who do not eat meat2. Meat and fish contain many nutrients related to bone health including protein, vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Vegetarian sources of protein may be more difficult to absorb for some people making these nutrients less bioavailable.
Having a lower BMI can make a positive impact on health. However, being underweight can lead to low-fat mass along with poor muscle and bone health. Because body fat can provide cushion during falls, having too little fat mass can increase the risk of hip fracture.
What can help protect bones if you are a vegetarian?
Let’s take a look at the things that can be done to help vegetarians protect their bones while enjoying the foods they love.
WEIGHT: To start out, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Determine what body weight is best for you and then get there whether it be through weight loss or weight gain.
DIET: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. These all provide different nutrients. Plan meals and snacks around whole grains, nuts, legumes, and beans.
EXERCISE: Stay physically active and find weight-bearing exercises that can help improve bone strength such as walking, stair climbing, and elliptical machines.
SUPPLEMENTS: Evaluate the need for supplements such as vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids to help provide nutrients that are often lacking in a vegetarian diet. Also, look for fortified foods such as cereals that have added calcium. However, calcium is not the only nutrient that is key for bone health. Magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K are also important (among others).3 These can all be found in green leafy vegetables such as turnip greens and kale. Then try to get plenty of quality protein from eggs and dairy.
If you prefer a vegetarian diet, I can provide nutrition education and help with meal planning that would provide adequate nutrients for strong bones and well-balanced eating. All services would include education and professional guidance on managing diabetes with your specific food choices and lifestyle.
Please reach out to Integrated Diabetes Services to schedule an appointment at 877-735-3648 (in N America) or +1 (610) 642-6055 (outside N America). Eating the appropriate number of calories while finding a balance of adequate nutrition is important, not only for your bones but for overall health and wellness.
SaRene Brooks is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist whose focus is lifestyle intervention. She earned a bachelor of science degree in dietetics from Utah State University.
SaRene’s professional experience includes receiving accreditation for and directing a complete Diabetes Self-Management Education program. She also spent many years leading a lifestyle change program for weight management and chronic disease prevention. She thrives on providing the kind of care and education that empowers people to reach their personal health goals.