By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 28 August 2009)
Dairy products are often recommended for osteoporosis prevention because of their high calcium content. The good news for vegans and those who are lactose-intolerant is that calcium in dark green vegetables is actually easier for the body to use.
Although dairy products are higher in calcium, the percentage of calcium that can be absorbed from vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens is much higher.
Natural Sources of Vitamins and Minerals Are Ideal for Osteoporosis Prevention
While calcium is a critical element in the prevention of osteoporosis, it works synergistically with other nutrients. Plant-based calcium sources provide a potent spectrum of vitamins and minerals that work together to promote bone health.
In addition to their calcium content, dark leafy greens are rich in boron, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin K, all substances that help the body use calcium more effectively. Good greens for bone health include:
- Bok choy
- Dandelion leaves
Some leafy greens, such as chard, beet greens, and spinach, contain oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium. These vegetables are worth eating because they provide many other important nutrients, but they are not good sources of calcium. However, oxalic acid is reduced by cooking.
Use the Right Preparation and Cooking Methods to Preserve Vitamins and Minerals
Nutrients in food can be destroyed by moisture, water, light, air, oxidants (from rusty utensils), and baking soda. To preserve nutrients in fruits and vegetables:
- Eat produce soon after it has been harvested – buy local whenever possible.
- Store produce in a cool, dark, dry place until consuming.
- Trim and chop as little as possible – keep produce in large chunks.
- Don’t use rusty utensils or bakewear.
- Keep washing times to a minimum and don’t allow produce to soak in water.
- Eat produce raw, or at least keep cooking times as short as possible.
- If cooking, steam, sauté gently, or bake rather than boiling.
- Serve immediately rather than keeping cooked foods warming on the stove or in the oven.
Foods and Beverages That Interfere with the Absorption of Calcium and Other Minerals
Some dietary choices will reduce or eliminate the benefits of eating nutrient-rich foods such as dark green vegetables. Diets high in sugar and salt contribute to the loss of calcium through urine, as does excessive consumption of soft drinks, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol. High-protein diets also contribute to the loss.
Concerns have been expressed that grains (cereal, bread, etc.) may interfere with calcium absorption, but this effect is minimal and not a cause for concern. Iron and calcium do compete with one another, however, so iron-rich foods (red meat, poultry, etc.) and iron supplements should be consumed at separate times from calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a qualified medical practitioner.
- Bastin, S. (2000), University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture. “Vegetable Preparation for the Family.” University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture. CA.UKY.edu.
- Driskell, J.A., University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. (2007). “Nutritive and Sensory Qualities of Cooked Foods.” HealthGoods.com.
- Graci, Sam; DeMarco, Carolyn, Dr.; & Rao, Leticia, Dr. (2006). The Bone-Building Solution.Mississauga, ON: John Wiley & Sons.
- Hiller, S. (3 August 2009). “Avoid Osteoporosis the Natural Way – Natural Protection for Your Bones.”The Mayo News, MayoNews.ie.
- Jiménez-Monreal et al. (2009). “Influence of Cooking Methods on Antioxidant Activity of Vegetables.” Journal of Food Science, 2009: 74(3)
- Kirschmann, J.D. (2006). Nutrition Almanac. Nutrition Search, Inc.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (April 2007). “Osteoporosis” and “Bone Health (General).” NIAMS.NIH.gov.
- Weil, Andrew, Dr. (28 January 2008). “Q and A Library: Avoid Vegetables with Oxalic Acid?” DrWeil.com.