One of the most celebrated aspects of Spring is certainly the “re-greening” of the land…the trees and shrubs start to push their buds open, the grass starts putting on new growth, and everywhere we see that crisp, bright green that is so rejuvenating after the Winter grays. This green means life. Certainly in times past these, greens literally were life-giving as people had been living on stored foods throughout the winter months, which were usually petering out by Spring. One of the most valuable components of spring greens are their rich mineral content, necessary for so many basic processes in the body, but most visibly to bone health.
While bones seem just structural and solid, they are in fact a metabolically active tissue. Bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding as way to repair. Bones also act as the body’s storehouse of calcium and phosphorus. When the body senses a need for more calcium, it removes it from the bone. Bones also respond to a variety of hormonal signals, as well as mechanical loads. In perfect bone health, the breaking down and rebuilding processes are in balance and bones maintain their proper density. When more breaking-down happens than rebuilding, osteoporosis occurs.
To celebrate Spring’s mineral-rich greenery let’s look at some food-oriented treatments for osteoporosis and to increase bone health.
Eat your vegetables: All those beautiful leafy greens are loaded with bone-building minerals. Eat the broadest spectrum for the largest benefit. We all know that milk products contain calcium, but some other foods that are good to regularly include in your diet for bone health include:
- Collard greens
- Rapini (brocolli rabe),
- Mustard greens
Other high mineral foods:
- Sesame seeds/tahini (sesame seed paste): Very high in calcium. Stir a few extra tablespoons of tahini into your hummus, or use as a Middle Eastern-inspired drizzle on vegetables. Ground, salted sesame seeds (Japanese gomasio) are a treat on steamed veggies and hot rice.
- Blackstrap Molasses: Also very high in calcium as well as other minerals including iron, manganese, and copper. Of course you can make some molasses cookies! But you can also make a nice tea by stirring a tablespoon into hot water and topping off with some cream or milk substitute.
Minerals are abundant in leafy herbs
Spring herbs are a great way to introduce fresh new flavors with many health benefits.
Fresh herbs like parsley, basil, and cilantro add dense mineral goodness to dishes. (Pesto!)
- Nettles: Well-known for its sting, but it also has a mild, spinachy flavor. High in iron, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium.
- Dandelion greens: yes you can pick the ones in your yard (provided you do not apply herbicides), but there are also culinary varieties in your local market. Bitter and rich, it promotes good digestion and liver cleansing. High in vitamins A and K, as well as calcium and potassium
- Peppermint: Rich in magnesium, copper, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Great food-based tools for building strong bones:
Vitamin K2 is hugely important in bone health and tooth development. Vitamin K2 can stop bone loss and in some cases it can reverse osteoporosis. Vitamin K2 is found in fermented foods and the fats of pasture-raised animals (ie, it is made when they eat fresh grass). We like Kerry Gold or Organic Valley butters made from pastured cows. Vitamin K is also found in many green herbs such as nettles and raspberry leaf, known as great pregnancy herbs for shoring up the vitamin K to prevent undue bleeding at birth. You can also supplement with Vitamin K2, however it should be avoided by people on anti-coagulant medications.
Bone broths are the quintessential old-school way to support your bones. The long slow simmering of bones breaks down the matrix and releases a wonderfully mineral rich soup. It is also rich in glucosaminoglycans which nourish the cartilage in our joints, making it the perfect skeletal food.
Finally, a word on a supplement that is showing great promise to those at risk for osteoporosis:
Potassium citrate: I recently attended a very interesting talk about acid-base balances in the body. The idea has long been that acidifying foods are pro-inflammatory and wreak all kinds of havoc, while alkalinizing foods are calming and remineralizing. It has always seemed like a vaguely fringe diet idea that was unprovable. With recent testing sensitivity they have finally been able to show that indeed certain foods are acid-forming vs. base-forming and see the results…
One of the biggest systems hit by being too acidic is the skeletal system, which this research theorized is why we have so much osteoporosis. The body tries to buffer acidification by releasing calcium and other bony matrix elements from the bones and acidosis inhibits bone remineralization.
Studies show that bone mass can be increased significantly in postmenopausal women with osteopenia by increasing their daily alkali intake as potassium citrate.
We hope this has been a nice overview of ways to support your skeletal health. Stay tuned for a few more ideas about osteoporosis in Part II of this series.