Many Americans believe they can’t get adequate protein if they don’t eat animal foods. This is not true. Nutritionists agree that vegetarians can get more than enough protein for good health. In fact, the diseases that kill most Americans (heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes) are all closely linked to diets too high in animal foods. That’s why a low-acid diet not only helps prevent osteoporosis, it can also reduce your risk of Western society’s major killers.
Although fruits and vegetables do contain enough protein to keep you healthy, their protein counts are much lower than those of animal foods. But when you eat fruits and veggies, only a small amount of acid enters the bloodstream, along with a great deal of alkaline material that immediately neutralizes the acid. As a result, the body doesn’t need to draw calcium compounds from bone, resulting in healthier bones.
Meat, fish, poultry, and dairy, on the other hand, contain five to 10 times more protein per serving than fruits and veggies—and very little alkaline material—which means the blood’s acidity level skyrockets and the body must look to bone for additional calcium to neutralize it.
Healthy bones: the whole picture
Although fracture studies show that increasing calcium doesn’t prevent breaks, research on bone-mineral density (BMD)—which measures the amounts of calcium and other minerals in your bones—says otherwise. By a slim majority, studies found that calcium improves BMD. So how do we explain this apparent contradiction? By remembering that bones are more than calcium and that strong, fracture-resistant bones require a balance of calcium and at least 16 other nutrients (see page 60). Once again, consuming lots of calcium but not enough of the other nutrients is like building a brick wall without enough mortar. The wall may look strong, but it isn’t.
In fact, more than 100 studies have explored the effects of fruits and vegetables on BMD. Although calcium improved BMD in 52 percent of studies focused on the mineral, fruits and vegetables improved BMD in 85 percent of more than 100 studies on these foods. That’s no surprise, since fruits and veggies contain not only calcium but plenty of other bone-building nutrients as well.
Remember, how you live your life is up to you. If you want to eat the American-standard 220 pounds of meat a year and only two to three servings of fruits and vegetables a day, go for it. But this type of diet carries a high price—substantial risk of osteoporosis and other top causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Low-acid eating is the key to healthier bones and decreasing your risk of osteoporosis. It’s a safe, effective, low-cost prescription for health, vitality, and longevity.
3 Ways to Transition to Low-Acid Eating
- Remember that one serving of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of a deck of playing cards. It should take up about one-fourth of your dinner plate; reserve the other three-fourths for fruit and vegetables.
- Keep in mind that it takes three servings of fruits and veggies to neutralize the acid in one serving of flesh food, and two servings of fruits and veggies to neutralize one serving of grain.
- If you eat the recommended five servings of fruits and veggies every day, you can safely eat one serving of meat (or fish or chicken). It’s still wise to plan at least one day a week without animal protein.
A Healthy Bones Cheat Sheet
4 Things That Help Your Bones
Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, which requires your bones to support your weight, is as important to bone strength as low-acid eating. Studies show that 30 to 60 minutes of daily moderate exercise—walking, gardening, even dancing—substantially reduces your risk of fractures.
Vitamin D. “Most people know their cholesterol level, but very few know their vitamin D level,” says R. Keith McCormick, DC, author of The Whole Body Approach to Osteoporosis (New Harbinger Publications, 2008). A simple test at the doctor’s office can clue you into how much vitamin D you’re absorbing from sunlight and food, so you can gauge the supplement dosage that’s best for you.
Antioxidants. While oxidative stress—the damage inflicted by free radicals—breaks bones down, antioxidants can help neutralize inflammation by disarming those free radicals. To monitor your body’s inflammation levels, McCormick suggests having a C-reactive protein test, which can help you decide whether you need to supplement with an antioxidant, like alpha-linolenic acid or n-acetyl cysteine, and how much to take.
Optimal nutrient absorption. The supplements you take and healthy foods you eat won’t do your body any good if you’re not absorbing their nutrients. A simple urine test can reveal if that calcium supp you’re swallowing is flushing right out without doing any good. Potassium bicarbonate, vitamin K, and the amino acid taurine can aid calcium absorption, so talk to your doctor about the dosage that’s right for you. Since gluten intolerance can also disrupt your nutrient absorption, McCormick recommends that everyone get tested for celiac disease.
4 Things That Harm Your Bones
Caffeine. Your morning cup of joe might not be a top risk factor for fractures, but some studies show that caffeine intake lessens the body’s ability to absorb calcium. For adult women, even a 6-ounce cup of coffee can hurt your calcium levels, so limit caffeine consumption to one or two cups a day.
Alcohol. Heavy drinking—more than one drink a day for women, two for men—suppresses bone-building osteoblast cells, leading to weaker bones, especially in young women whose bones are still developing. Some studies suggest that even after you quit drinking for good, your bones can never overcome the damaging effects of prior chronic alcohol use.
Smoking. By flooding the bloodstream with free radicals that cause cell damage, smoking plays a role in weakening bones. According to the World Health Organization, roughly one in eight hip fractures are attributable to cigarette smoking. But here’s good news: Quitting can potentially slow your bone-loss rate.
Prescription drugs. Not only do common diabetes drugs Avandia and Actos suppress bone-building cells, they actually activate the cells that degrade bones. Researchers suggest weighing the benefits of the drugs against the risks they impose. Steroids like Prednisone also reduce the amount of calcium absorbed by your intestines, contributing to bone loss.
Beyond Calcium: 16 Nutrients You Need for Healthy Bones Nutrient
|Nutrient||Bone-building dosage||What foods have it|
|Phosphorus||700 to 1,200 mg||Beans and nuts|
|Magnesium||400 to 800 mg||Potatoes, soy foods, seeds, nuts, beans, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, leafy greens|
|Fluoride||3 to 4 mg||Tea, beans, potatoes, carrots|
|Silica||5 to 20 mg||Coffee, fruits, vegetables|
|Zinc||20 to 30 mg||Beans, peanuts|
|Manganese||10 to 25 mg||Avocados, seeds, nuts (especially pecans and hazelnuts)|
|Copper||2 to 3 mg||Beans, raisins, nuts|
|Boron||3 to 4 mg||All fruits and vegetables|
|Potassium||4,700 to 5,000 mg||Fruits and vegetables (especially potatoes, bananas, prunes, raisins, spinach, acorn squash)|
|Vitamin D||800 to 2,000 IU||Mushrooms|
|Vitamin C||500 mg||Oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, cantaloupe, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes|
|Vitamin A||5,000 IU or less||Carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, sweet potatoes, yams, leafy greens|
|Vitamin B6||25 to 50 mg||Carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, sweet potatoes, yams, leafy greens|
|Folic acid||800 to 1,000 mcg||Spinach, broccoli, asparagus, chard, kale, and beet greens|
|Vitamin K||1,000 mcg||Lettuce, spinach, chard, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens|
|Vitamin B12||100 to 1,000 mcg||Milk, cheese, eggs, salmon, sardines, fortified cereals, beef, organ meats (liver, kidney)|