Vegetarians and Osteoporosis

You know that eating a vegetarian diet can decrease the incidence of heart disease and certain types of cancers. You also know that it can make you leaner and healthier. But so many of the health studies are done on men? What about women and the impact of a vegetarian diet on their health as they age?

Diets that are high in protein, especially animal protein, tend to cause the body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. These three substances are the main components of urinary tract stones. British researchers have advised that persons with a tendency to form kidney stones should follow a vegetarian diet. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States and other developed countries and recommends protein restriction for the prevention of recurrent kidney stones.

For many of the same reasons, vegetarians are at a lower risk for osteoporosis. Since animal products force calcium out of the body, eating meat can promote bone loss. In nations with mainly vegetable diets (and without dairy product consumption), osteoporosis is less common than in the U.S., even when calcium intake is also less than in the U.S. Calcium is important, but there is no need to get calcium from dairy products.

We continue to consume meat, while at the same time downing calcium supplements and prescription drugs to prevent osteoporosis, that often have drastic side effects. And most experts agree that calcium supplements are inferior to calcium derived from natural food sources. Doesn’t it make more sense (and cents) to get your calcium from eating a healthier diet? 

What are some good vegetarian sources of calcium? Orange juice, for one. Dry beans, such as black-eyed peas, kidney beans and black beans are another good source, as are dark leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale. Tofu is also a good source of calcium.

Going Vegetarian during your Pregnancy

Now that you’re pregnant, you’re wondering if your decision to become vegetarian can still be carried out successfully during your pregnancy.  And while it is possible for you to obtain all the nutrients your body will need during pregnancy through a well-planned, nutrient-dense vegetarian diet, careful planning and observation will be crucial to your overall success transitioning to vegetarianism during your pregnancy.

In other words: take it slow and be smart!

A good vegetarian diet has a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, and nuts and some eggs and dairy or their equivalent if you so choose. Fast food, highly processed junk foods, and canned fruits and vegetables are eaten rarely if at all.  It’s imperative that you make wise food choices at this crucial time, since a pregnant woman only needs approximately 300 more calories per day and about 10-16 extra grams of protein; however, the body’s need for certain nutrients increases significantly. Every bite you take is important when you’re pregnant.

While the RDAs (recommended daily allowances) for almost all nutrients increase, especially important are folic acid, iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12. Attention to adequate amounts of vitamin B-12 is crucial for vegetarians who choose not to eat eggs and dairy.

Work closely with your healthcare professional during this transition.  The changeover from a meat-eating to a vegetarian diet can be rough on your body as it actually goes through a detoxification process during the transition. So, you want to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrients it needs at this time, and is growing and developing at a healthy rate.  Start very slowly; perhaps only one or two days per week eating a vegetarian diet.

Gradually work soy and other plant-based proteins into your diet, and little by little use them to replace proteins obtained from eating meat products.  Be sure to adequately supplement your diet with a quality prenatal supplement, and get adequate amounts of exercise and exposure to sunlight to promote your body to naturally produce vitamin D.

With careful planning, observation, and your healthcare professional’s guidance, the transition to vegetarianism during your pregnancy can be a cleansing and healthy start for both you and your baby to a lifetime of optimal health.