Recently I touched on a topic that’s of vital importance to all women: bone health. In my post on almond milk, I mentioned that new research is pointing to an unexpected culprit behind bone density loss.
Traditionally, bone loss has been attributed to an absence of calcium in our diets, and so milk and other dairy foods have been offered as remedies. What this suggestion tends to ignore is the fact that osteoperosis is often higher in countries that consume more dairy than it is in countries—even third world countries—where dairy consumption is low. Why is this? Is it possible that dairy (and, by extension, calcium intake) isn’t a catchall solution to bone loss? Or that dairy foods are contributing to the very problem they’re supposed to prevent?
Possibly. A wealth of new research seems to suggest that bone loss results not only from what we don’t eat enough of (calcium), but also from what we might eat too much of (animal protein).
Remember your high school chem class, when you learned about the pH scale? Our bodies, like all other matter, exist somewhere on this scale. Acidic matter has a low pH, and alkaline matter a high pH. Our stomachs have a highly acidic environment – anywhere from 1.5-3.5 on the pH scale. Our blood has an extremely narrow pH range of 7.35-7.45, and it’s usually stable at 7.4. If it moves even a little in either direction, our respiratory and urinary systems will work to stabilize it.
A growing body of medical research suggests that when we digest excessive quantities of animal protein, we create uric acid as a byproduct. Over time, too much acidic byproduct may threaten to lower the pH in our tissues and even in our bloodstream.
Our bodies are designed to maintain homeostasis (sameness), so our systems search for ways to neutralize acid buildup. One way is to “buffer” acid with minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. And one very good place to get these minerals is our skeletal system. However, when our bodies assimilate too much animal protein, they turn to our bones for aid in neutralizing the digestive by products. Which may be why countries with the highest protein consumption so often happen to be plagued by osteoperosis.
But You Don't Have to Go Vegan
This is no reason to swear off meat or dairy. They can be consumed healthily in moderation. But it is a very good reason to practice meatless Mondays, or to start cooking more vegetarian meals, like whole grain pasta dishes with fresh beans, baked tofu and grilled veggies, or hearty stews and curries.
Ultimately, bone protection is a multi-part process. Calcium (and Vitamin D) are important, but so is eating a nourishing diet that’s rich in alkaline foods (like dark, leafy greens) and mindful of acid-forming foods (like meats, dairy, and alcohol). Exercise and strength training play a huge role in osteoporosis prevention, too, so don’t forget to hit the gym or pull out the home dumbbells three times weekly if you can!
Gena Hamshaw is a certified clinical nutritionist with an emphasis on plant-based nutrition. She writes about body image, green living, and a plant-based lifestyle on her popular blog, ChoosingRaw.com.