Does no dairy equal bad bones? The answer is not necessarily. Contrary to some claims, a Paleo diet is not dangerous for bone health and supplements are not always necessary for most healthy adults. There are plenty of other cultures around the world that do not consume dairy or take supplements and have strong bones throughout their lifetime. Those following a Paleo diet are able to do the same.
By eating foods that are rich in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, and other nutrients that are important for bone health, you can protect your bones and keep them strong while eating a Paleo diet. I will give you a summary of essential nutrients their recommended daily intakes, and what foods you can incorporate into your diet so that you get enough of what you need.
Calcium and Paleo Bone Health
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is mostly stored in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function. Calcium has been in the controversial spotlight. First of all, recent research findings have surfaced that high intake of calcium provides no benefit for hip or lumbar vertebral bone mineral density in older adults. Second, calcium supplements may even increase hip fracture rates. Third, calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and a large research study published in British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2012 found that calcium supplement users had a 139% higher risk of heart attack. However, high intake of calcium through diet did not increase the risk.
Although government guidelines recommend that calcium intake range from 1,000 to 1,300 mg daily for adults, many experts believe that we really only need a minimum of 600-800 mg daily for good bone health.
Top 5 Paleo Foods For Their Calcium Content
Sardines (with bones), 3 ounces 325 mg
Salmon (canned solids with bone), 3 ounces 181 mg
Collard greens, 1 cup 268 mg
Turnip greens, 1 cup 198 mg
Almonds, 2 ounces 150 mg
Vitamin D and Bone Health
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in calcium absorption in the bones. Our bodies can make most of what we need when we are exposed to sunlight (approximately 15 minutes per day), but keep in mind that sunscreen prevents this. Although getting outside should be our main source of vitamin D, it is recommended that adults get 600-800 IUs each day through diet. However, some people who start a Paleo diet do so because they have gut problems, which can interfere with vitamin D absorption, and may require supplements. Also, the obese may need more vitamin D than average (840-1120 IU) because fat stores vitamin D and hides it from the rest of the body. Generally speaking, if you are a healthy adult, you should be able to get what you need from sunlight and food.
Top 5 Paleo Foods For Their Vitamin D Content
Portabello mushrooms, 1 cup 977 IU
Swordfish, 3 ounces 566 IU
Salmon, 3 ounces 447 IU
Tuna fish, 3 ounces 228 IU
Sardines (with bones), 3 ounces 164 IU
Vitamin K2 and Bone Health
A healthy balance of vitamin K2 is important for bone health. It makes sure that calcium is sent to your bones and not to other parts of your body, such as your arteries where calcification and vascular disease can occur. The optimal amount of K2 is still under investigation, but some experts recommend 180-200 mcg
Top 5 Paleo Foods And Their Vitamin K Content
Kale, 1 cup cooked 1062.1 mcg
Brussels sprouts, 1 cup cooked 218.9 mcg
Spring onions, ½ cup 103 mcg
Asparagus, 1 cup cooked 91.1 mcg
Dried basil, 1 teaspoon 85.7 mcg
Phosphorus and Bone Health
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body and it works closely with calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Too much phosphorus in the diet is actually pretty common in the United States, unfortunately, thanks to huge amounts of soft drinks being consumed. However, the recommended daily amount for healthy adults is 700mg. As mentioned above, keep in mind that most Americans get enough and sometimes too much of this through diet. However, here’s a list of foods rich in phosphorus.
Top 5 Paleo Foods And Their Phosphorus Content
Scallops, 3 ounces 362 mg
Pumpkin and squash seeds, 1 ounce 345 mg
Salmon, 3 ounces 315 mg
Pork, 3 ounces 264 mg
Brazil nuts, 1 ounce 203 mg
Magnesium and Bone Health
Magnesium is an essential mineral for bone health and is one of the few nutrients that I sometimes recommend supplementing. The problem with magnesium is that the soil that modern agriculture grows food in is often poor in magnesium, thanks to overuse of soil and nutrient depletion. In addition, most of us rely on purified water, which means the water coming from our tap is void of minerals due to the purification process. The recommended minimum is 400 mg daily.
Top 5 Paleo Foods And Their Magnesium Content
Spinach, 1 cup cooked 157 mg
Squash and pumpkin seeds, 1 ounce 150 mg
Dark chocolate, 1 square (29 grams) 95 mg
Mackerel, 3 ounces 82 mg
Avocados, 1 medium 58 mg
Not to mention, a very important aspect of preventing bone disease and building strong bones and teeth is exercise. One of the best things you can do for bone health is strength training, meaning exercising using resistance (body weight, weights, resistance bands, etc.). Together with a proper diet, this builds and strengthens bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, and improves joint function. Just make sure you don’t overdo it, otherwise you can injure yourself. I find that simply using body weight is the best strength training because you don’t need to buy expensive, fancy equipment, you can do it anywhere, and your risk of injury is low.
I hope you find this info useful for your Paleo diet and I wish you the absolute best in your health and fitness goals!