We’ve been told that we need to drink milk to have strong bones, but for thousands of years the Chinese and Japanese have survived and thrived on a dairy-free diet. Getting enough calcium is key (our diet should provide around 800 mg) but it’s not the whole story. Hormones, sunshine and marine minerals also play a role. Here are five ways you can boost your bone health without dairy:
1. Eat seaweed
Sea vegetables feature heavily in Asian diets and certain types of seaweed have more calcium than cheese. In Japan you’ll find nori wrapped around sushi rolls, wakame floating in miso soup and kelp in seaweed salads. If you don’t like the flavour of seaweed, try taking a sea kelp supplement instead.
2. Eat more greens
Leafy green vegetables are a great way to boost your calcium levels. Excellent sources include spinach, kale and brocolli rabe and you can boost their absorption by combining them with extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
3. Monitor magnesium
Increasing your magnesium intake boosts bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. It is magnesium that determines where potassium and calcium are deposited in the body, so what is the best way to up your dose? Seaweed, raw cacao and pumpkin seeds are all rich in magnesium, but you might want to supplement if you don’t regularly consume these foods. Having a magnesium bath, by soaking in magnesium or ‘marine’ salts, is an ideal way to absorb this mineral.
4. Get enough vitamin D
Not only is vitamin D vital for calcium absorption, but it is also plays a fundamental role in supporting the immune system, regulating mood and protecting against chronic diseases. Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D but many of us are not getting enough. It’s difficult to get adequate levels through diet alone – shiitake mushrooms, sardines and eggs are some of the few foods that contain vitamin D – so you may want to consider a supplement to boost your bone health – especially if you aren’t often exposed to the sun. Vitamin D3 is the most natural form and, being a fat-soluble vitamin, it’s best absorbed when you take it with food.
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5. Balance with vitamin K2
When you are taking supplements you need to make sure they are working in balance. Vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its correct place and stops it from accumulating in the brain and soft tissue. This fat-soluble vitamin also prevents toxicity from vitamin D, if you are taking very large doses. Non-dairy foods rich in K2 include egg yolks, chicken liver, grass-fed beef and Natto, a fermented soy dish popular in Japan. A recent study found that a specific form of K2 found in these foods increased the percentage of osteocalcin (a protein found in bone) three times more powerfully than vitamin K1 did.
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