If you're loading up on dairy but skimping on vegetables, you could still be at five times the risk of low bone mass. That's the implication of a recent Japanese study of roughly 100 female college students, comparing dietary patterns with bone mass. Those with daily intake of beta-carotene-rich veggies (e.g., carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, red bell peppers and pumpkin) were 500% less likely to suffer low bone mass. Since dairy intake was fairly similar across the board, researchers speculate that the difference in vegetable consumption was the decisive factor. This echoes similar, previous research, which found greater bone mass and less calcium excretion among girls with the highest fruit intake.
Why might that be? Well, as explored in Beyond Calcium, nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables provide the rainbow of other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed for overall bone health. For example, cantaloupe's a top beta-carotene source, but also provides 60% of daily vitamin C, needed to produce collagen, a structural component of strong bones. Beta-carotene-rich leafy greens are also top sources of vitamin K, adequate intake of which is linked to a 65% lower fracture risk among seniors. Beta-carotene-rich tomatoes are also a top source of lycopene, linked to 66% less bone loss in another recent study.
In addition to eating a plant-based diet, keep bones strong with plenty of weight-bearing exercise -- whether that's strength-training or high-impact team sports like soccer and volleyball.
For high-intensity athletes, bear in mind that you lose a significant amount of calcium and other nutrients needed for bone health through the profuse perspiration that comes with vigorous activity.