Move over dairy. There’s a new food group in town! While milk has held a long-time tenure as the skeleton’s biggest dietary supporter, some new science demonstrates dairy is not the only bone-centric food group to pay attention to.

A recent clinical trial published in the Journal of Nutrition reveals that consuming the recommended amounts of vegetables may improve bone health and support bone-related health outcomes. This is great news for those of us who love loading our plates with colourful veggies!

Lifestyle strategies that support healthy bones (density and strength) throughout life are of paramount importance. Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph. D., RDN. says “a nutrient-dense diet has to be at the top of a bone-loving strategy list, and vegetables are a significant contributor to nutrient density in a well-balanced diet.”

Ferira goes on to say that, “given the (astounding) fact that 90% of adults in the U.S. fail to consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, the opportunity to improve our vege intake is ripe.”

In previous research, dietary patterns and their nutritional components (including vege intake) have been clearly linked to bone health. This correlation prompted scientists to research whether increased consumption of vegetables, particularly the amount recommended by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), could positively affect bone health.

Details Of The Study

The eight-week clinical trial included individuals with BMIs in the overweight and obese range that consumed one serving of vegetables or less per day.

The vegetable intervention (VI) group was provided an amount of vegetables to consume each week that was appropriate to their unique DGA recommendations (i.e. based on overall daily calorie needs) while the control group maintained their regular diet.

In practice, this involved the intervention group receiving about 270 grams of extra vegetables (approximately three and a half servings) on average, which were fresh or frozen and pre-packaged. Vege options spanned five distinct subgroups including dark greens, red and orange, starchy, beans and peas, and other (e.g. cucumbers, celery, and cabbage).

Each group came in regularly to complete detailed food recall questionnaires and test carotenoid intake in order to monitor fruit and vegetable consumption. Additionally, urine samples were taken at the baseline and end of the study to analyse bone health biomarkers and metabolism.

Final Results

The concluding data revealed that the VI group had higher carotenoid intake and lower dietary potential renal acid load (PRAL) than the control group at the end of the study. PRAL is the capacity of acid or base production in foods rich in protein such as meat, cheese, and eggs to produce more acid. Fruit and vegetables naturally increase alkalis (they are more alkaline or pH basic).

Another urinary marker of acid load (urine titratable acid) was also significantly lower (by 24%) in the veggie group. “Although the impact of pH on bone is still debated in scientific literature, some evidence points to a more alkaline environment as being more bone-friendly,” Ferira shares.

Interestingly, the vegetable group in this study also experienced a 19% reduction in serum C-terminal telopeptide of type I collagen (CTX), a marker of bone resorption (turnover). “This positive bone effect from increasing vegetable intake is exciting to see,” says Ferira.

She goes on to say that, “While bone turnover occurs throughout life for all of us, it’s striking the balance between bone loss and growth that matters most for bone health across life. Veges are part of that balancing act.”

How Carotenoids Support Bone Health

While it’s not surprising that eating more vegetables would result in improved carotenoid status in the body, what do those phytonutrients have to do with your bones?

While carotenoids might be famous for supporting eye health and giving fruit and vegetables such as papaya, pumpkins, carrots, and sweet potatoes their bright orange colour, it turns out they have even more to offer us nutritionally and functionally when it comes to our bones.

These bioactive plant components (e.g. beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene) are a group of antioxidant phytochemicals that support your immune system and help provide antioxidant defense, which in turn protects bone tissue. In fact, a previous study found that a diet with a high intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and vege can increase bone formation.

The Takeaway

In addition to enhancing your immune system and providing essential nutrients, vege may be a powerful tool to care for your bones. Adding carotenoid-rich foods to your diet can support your bone health throughout your life – think of it as an insurance policy for your skeletal system.