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It is well known that eating a Mediterranean-based diet has beneficial effects on your health.  Numerous studies throughout the years have shown that this diet can help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, as well as decrease the risk of developing cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  Furthermore, it has been shown to help keep your brain young and improve longevity!  What more could we want?  How about strong bones!

Recently, researchers examining the effects of diet on bone health found that postmenopausal women who ate a Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer from hip fractures. After analyzing the data from the Women’s Health Initiative study, researchers found that women who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet had a 20 percent lower risk for hip fractures compared to women who didn’t followed other diets. The authors of the study concluded “these results support the notion that following a healthy dietary pattern may play a role in the maintenance of bone health in postmenopausal women.” The study was published online March 28 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

What is it about the Mediterranean diet that supports bone health? The diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil while limiting meat, cheese, sweets and processed foods.  These nutrient rich foods provide all the important minerals and vitamins necessary for keeping bones strong as well as the necessary proteins from plant and animal sources along with encouraging the consumption of healthy fats.

  • Vegetables provide important bone building vitamins such as K, C, B6, folate and minerals like calcium, manganese, copper, potassium.
  • Fruits are abundant in vitamin C, manganese and potassium.
  • Legumes, such as lentils and beans, are rich in the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, manganese, boron and folate.
  • Nuts and seeds not only provide healthy fats, but also an abundance of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper, boron.
  • Whole grains, such as oats, millet, barley, quinoa, brown rice and whole wheat, provide needed silica, manganese, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B6, folate.
  • Fish, not only a wonderful source of protein, but fatty fish such as Salmon and Mackerel provide omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel and trout are healthy choices and provide vitamin A, B6, B12 and D, as well as phosphorus and calcium.
  • Lentils, seeds, nuts, beans and grains also provide valuable proteins as well as a plethora of vitamins and minerals.
  • Olive oil provide key polyphenols that have strong anti-inflammatory effects. The fats from avocadoes are equally as beneficial.
  • Wine in moderation. Wine, particularly red wine, contains the antioxidant resveratrol which has been shown to support healthy lipid levels in the bloodstream as well as anti-inflammatory properties. However, alcohol is acidic and can lead to leeching of calcium from the bones, so moderation is imperative.

What don’t you see on this list?

  • Cheese and yogurt are eaten regularly in the traditional Mediterranean diet, but in moderate amounts. Milk is not included in this traditional diet. Adequate calcium in this diet comes from vegetables, nuts and fish.
  • Eggs and poultry in moderation. Though packed with good protein and other nutrients, eggs and poultry are only eaten 1-2 times a week.
  • Meat is limited in this diet and is only eaten 1-2 times a month. Limiting red meat may be beneficial to bones because meat has been shown to be very acidic and can cause the leeching of calcium from the bones.
  • Sweets and processed foods are limited. Sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods are void of nutrients, and are often considered anti-nutrients.  Anti-nutrients interfere with the absorption and utilization of essential nutrients in the body, which can result in impaired bone growth and strength.

The Mediterranean diet is effective in supporting bone health because it provides a varied diet full of nutrients, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory and alkalizing foods.  I think most importantly, the JAMA study highlights how an overall healthy diet may be more important in supporting bone health than just focusing on the intake of a few widely emphasized nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D.  Unfortunately, when it comes to preventing and combating bone loss and osteoporosis, nutrition is often ignored in favor of pharmacological medicine. As a society, we are all becoming more aware how a nutritious diet maintains health, prevents disease and even helps control and/or treats chronic illness.  Nutrition, along with exercise, can do the same for osteoporosis!

Check out my Bone Building Nutrient Chart to see what minerals are crucial to your bone health: Bone Building Nutrients

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by Susan Brady

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