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Eating More Veggies Improves Key Bone Health Biomarker, Recent Study Reveals

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy
December 14, 2021

Move over, dairy—there's a new food group in town! While milk has held a longtime 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 trial1 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 colorful veggies! 

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Exploring vegetables & bone health in the U.S.

Lifestyle strategies that support healthy bones (density and strength) throughout life are of paramount importance. As mbg's director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "A nutrient-dense diet has to be at the top of a bone-loving strategy list, and vegetables represent a significant contributor to nutrient density in a well-balanced diet."

Ferira goes on to say that, "Given the (astounding) fact that 90% of U.S. adults2 fail to consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables on the daily, the opportunity to improve our veggie intake is ripe."

In previous research, dietary patterns and their nutritional components (including veggie intake) have been clearly linked to bone health3. 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 prepackaged. Veggie 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 analyze bone health biomarkers and metabolism.

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The final results.

The concluding data revealed that the VI group had higher carotenoid intake and lower dietary potential renal acid load4 (PRAL) than the control group at the end of the study. PRAL is the capacity of acid or base production in any food—foods rich in protein (e.g., meat, cheese, and eggs) produce more acid, while fruits and vegetables increase alkalis (i.e., 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 bone5 is still debated in the scientific literature, some evidence points to a more alkaline environment as being 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 (i.e., 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. Veggies 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, you might ask?

While carotenoids might be famous for supporting eye health and giving fruits and vegetables such as papayas, pumpkins, carrots, and sweet potatoes their bright orange color, 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 tissue6.* In fact, a previous study7 found that a diet with a high intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and veggies can increase bone formation.

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The takeaway.

In addition to enhancing your immune system and providing essential nutrients, veggies 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! 

Along with eating your daily recommended serving of vegetables, adding a quality multivitamin to your daily routine can be helpful. mindbodygreen's ultimate multivitamin+ formula provides potent sources of essential vitamins, minerals, plus an array of carotenoids and more to support whole-body health, including the bones.*

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Morgan Chamberlain
Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor

Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.