A new study has found that vegan women, who eat only plant based foods, have bones as healthy as non-vegetarian women.
In the research involving 105 post-menopausal vegan Buddhist nuns and 105 non-vegetarian women, the researchers were surprised to find that their bone density was identical.
"For the 5 percent of people in Western countries who choose to be vegetarians, this is very good news," said lead researcher Professor Tuan Nguyen from Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
"Even vegans, who eat only plant-based foods, appear to have bones as healthy as everyone else.
Nguyen said that bone health in vegetarians, particularly vegans, has been a concern for some time, because as a group they tend to have a lower protein and calcium intake than the population at large.
"In this work we showed that although the vegans studied do indeed have lower protein and calcium intakes, their bone density is virtually identical to that of people who eat a wide variety of foods, including animal protein," he said.
"The nuns' calcium intake was very low, only about 370 mg a day, where the recommended level is 1,000 mg. Their protein intake was also very low at around 35 g a day, compared with the non-vegetarian group, which was 65 g," he added.
Professor Nguyen chose to study Buddhist nuns because their faith requires them to observe strict vegan diets all their lives.
"We didn't study vegetarians from the West because many are lacto-vegetarians, so could have considerable calcium in their diets. It would have compromised the results," Nguyen explained.
The findings are published online in Osteoporosis International.