By Kelley Herring
In my previous article, we discussed why an animal-based diet is crucial for maintaining bone health – especially as you age. We also covered three nutrients – found predominantly in animal foods that dramatically slash the risk of osteoporosis.
Today, you’ll learn about three more bone-building nutrients supplied by an omnivorous diet, plus some sample recipes to keep your bones strong and healthy!
Zinc is a mineral associated with an omnivorous diet that is frequently inadequate in vegetarian diets.1 It is also well known to promote bone health. So, it’s no surprise that lower bone and serum concentrations of zinc are found in patients with osteoporosis.2
The British Journal of Nutrition conducted a 2-year control trial in postmenopausal women. The women were randomly assigned to treatments with either calcium, copper and zinc or calcium and corn starch. Researchers found improved bone health among the group that supplemented with zinc.3
Zinc is found in nuts, grains and beans. However, it is less bioavailable than animal sources, due to the presence of mineral-binding phytates.4 Optimize your zinc levels with grass-fed meats and clean-sourced seafood (especially oysters).
For many years, it was purported that a high-protein diet could lead to calcium loss and contribute to lower bone mineral density. However, more recent studies show that higher dietary protein intakes – not lower – were associated with greater bone mineral density and lower risk of fractures.5
In the Framingham Osteoporosis Study, four-year bone loss was lowest among those with the highest protein intakes.6 What’s more, those in the lowest quartile of protein intake had a significantly greater risk of hip fracture compared to those with higher protein intake.7
Similar results were discovered by the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which found an inverse association for protein intake and risk of hip fractures.8
For optimal protein intake, include grass-fed meats, pastured eggs and dairy (if tolerated) and wild fish.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids – including omega-3s and omega-6s – exert important influences on bone health via metabolism and inflammation.9
Vegetarian diets are notoriously high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s. This can cause an inflammatory state that increases the risk of osteoporosis.
The Rancho Bernardo Study found higher ratios of omega–6 to omega–3 fatty acids were associated with reduced bone mineral density in the pelvis.10
The Framingham Osteoporosis Study found that more than 3 servings of fatty fish per week were protective against bone mineral loss in the femoral neck bone (a section of bone at the top of the femur).11
While more research is needed to better understand the effects of fatty acids on bone health, it’s well established that the standard American diet and vegetarian diets are imbalanced in favor of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. And they are usually deficient in anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
It is important to note that vegetarian sources of omega-3s do exist, including walnuts, flaxseed and algal oils. However, these plant-based omega-3s are primarily in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which must be converted in the body to the most usable forms of omega-3 (EPA & DHA). This is a very inefficient process, which means that plant-based sources of omega-3 are inadequate for optimal health.
Ancestral Omnivorous Recipes for Bone Health
Get the nutrients your bones and body need with a varied ancestral diet.
Here are a few nutrient-dense meal ideas to get you started:
Wild Salmon & Shrimp, Roasted Sweet Potato
Grass-Fed Ribeye, Cauliflower Mashers & Green Salad
Lamb Chops with Homemade Tzatziki Sauce & Greek Salad
Grass-Fed Burgers in Lettuce Wraps
Sauteed Chicken Livers with Bacon & Balsamic Vinegar
Read more health and wellness articles from Kelley Herring on our Discover Blog.
Ed Note: Need some kitchen inspiration? Grab Kelley’s free guide – Instant Pot Keto Dinners – made exclusively with Paleo-and-Keto ingredients, for quick and delicious meals that taste just as good – of not better – than your restaurant favorites. Get your free guide here.
- Hunt JR. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:633S–9S.
- Atik OS. Zinc and senile osteoporosis. J Am Geriatr Soc 1983;31:790–1
- Nielsen FH, Lukaski HC, Johnson LK, Roughead ZK. Reported zinc, but not copper, intakes influence whole-body bone density, mineral content and T score responses to zinc and copper supplementation in healthy postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr 2011;106:1872–9.
- Saunders AV, Craig WJ, Baines SK. Zinc and vegetarian diets. MJA Open 2012;1(S2):17–21.
- Barzel US. The skeleton as an ion exchange system: implications for the role of acid-base imbalance in the genesis of osteoporosis. J Bone Miner Res 1995;10:1431–6.
- Hannan MT, Tucker KL, Dawson-Hughes B, Cupples LA, Felson DT, Kiel DP. Effect of dietary protein on bone loss in elderly men and women: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. J Bone Miner Res 2000;15:2504–12.
- Misra D, Berry SD, Broe KE, McLean RR, Cupples LA, Tucker KL, Kiel DP, Hannan MT. Does dietary protein reduce hip fracture risk in elders? The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Osteoporos Int 2011;22:345–9.
- Munger RG, Cerhan JR, Chiu BC. Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:147–52.
- Kettler DB. Can manipulation of the ratios of essential fatty acids slow the rapid rate of postmenopausal bone loss? Altern Med Rev 2001;6:61–77.
- Weiss LA, Barrett-Connor E, von Muhlen D. Ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids and bone mineral density in older adults: the Rancho Bernardo Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:934–8.
- Farina EK, Kiel DP, Roubenoff R, Schaefer EJ, Cupples LA, Tucker KL. Protective effects of fish intake and interactive effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intakes on hip bone mineral density in older adults: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:1142–51.