Improving bone health on a whole food plant-based diet

The only side effects were clearing up my eczema and curing irritable bowel syndrome

‘Where do you get your calcium?’ is one of the questions I am nearly always asked when I tell people I’m vegan. Most people assume we have to eat meat and dairy to get sufficient calcium in our diets and if we don’t, we are more at risk of fractures and developing bone disease. I myself was concerned when I decided to make the transition from being vegetarian to vegan a few years after I had been diagnosed with osteoporosis. It was rather unnerving to stop eating dairy and went against everything my osteoporosis nurse advised me.

My journey to being vegan and subsequently adopting a whole food plant-based diet has been a long one. It started way back in my late teens when I developed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or spastic colon as it was called then. It’s an uncomfortable condition and can have a profound effect on your lifestyle. There was very little in the way of medication to treat the condition and I was advised to up my intake of fibre. However, I found this didn’t really have much effect and so decided to keep a food diary. It soon became clear that after a Sunday roast or a burger I felt worse. I started experimenting with my diet and found that if I didn’t eat red meat, whilst not curing the condition, my attacks became less severe and prolonged.

Over the following years, for ethical reasons, I stopped eating white meat and then later fish, and my IBS attacks became less and less frequent. At this stage, of my life at the age of around 50, I was in relatively good health and was therefore shocked to discover I had osteopenia, lower bone density than the average for my age, and was at risk of developing osteoporosis. The medical advice was to increase my calcium intake by eating more dairy. I started drinking more milk, ate more cheese and had eggs for breakfast most days.

Three years later I had a bone scan and things had got much worse. There had been quite a dramatic change in my bone density and I had developed full blown osteoporosis. I was advised to be very cautious with my exercise regimen and was prescribed alendronic acid, later swapped for annual infusions of zoledronic acid. I was devastated. I loved my white water rafting and had booked a trip to Costa Rica. I still went but had to wave my husband off on the sidelines whilst I headed back to our room to read a book!

Over the next few years, unsure of exactly what I could do, I cut down on my exercise, stopped teaching yoga and started to live a more sedentary lifestyle. I carried on eating as much dairy as I could. I started to put on weight, developed unsightly eczema on my hands, feet and behind my knees and was diagnosed with gum disease. I generally felt unwell, lethargic and depressed.

It was at this stage that I decided to go vegan. I had seen too many horrific videos on social media and my conscience would no longer allow me to consume any animal products. Against all the advice I had ever had I ditched the dairy overnight!

Within a week my eczema cleared up completely. Was this to be a miracle cure for all my ailments? No, the eczema went and I felt better emotionally in myself by knowing that I was not inflicting pain on any other living being, but I wasn’t feeling amazing!

This situation carried on for a while until I got chatting to a friend who looked incredibly well. She had a form of chronic arthritis but told me she had reduced her medication, with the view of coming off it all together and was taking up running. I was intrigued. She informed me she had adopted a whole food vegan lifestyle and the benefits were incredible. Inspired I went home and did some research. It looked complicated at first; it was a whole new approach to food! Not just what you ate, but the preparation and cooking. However, with support, google and a good recipe book on whole food plant-based cooking I decided to give it a try!

So, what is the situation today at my age of 58? My diet is now completely whole food plant-based and both my husband and mother are 90% there too. I’ve not had one single IBS attack since starting this way of eating. The eczema has not come back, my gum disease has improved so much that my dentist was surprised, and I don’t need to see a specialist. I have perfect blood pressure and have not had so much as a cold for ages. But best of all, my bone density has improved and I’ve now reverted back to having osteopenia rather than osteoporosis. I’ve started doing yoga again, taking long walks and running. I feel much better in myself, happier knowing that my diet does not inflict pain on any sentient being, is good for the environment and is giving me optimum health. My aim now is to carry on as I am and to improve my bone density further and to rebook that white water rafting trip!

Sample of what I eat in a day

  • Breakfast is usually porridge with fruit or tofu scramble.
  • Lunch, a hearty soup with vegetables, whole grains, beans or lentils. I usually make batches and freeze several portions.
  • Dinner, lentil pasta, curry, stews, nut roast with veg. To cut back on cooking I do enough for 2 days so I’m only cooking 3 or 4 times a week.
  • Snacks — fruit/nuts

My go to website for recipes is ‘Forks over Knives’ and my most used cookbook is ‘PlantPure Nation’ by Kim Campbell.

Amanda Knight, Feb 2021