Bone Up on Your Protein

Do you remember your mother telling you to finish your glass of milk before you could be excused from the dinner table? Did she also tell you to finish your plate of spinach if you wanted muscles like Popeye? Good old Mom; she was right, you know! Research has always supported the health benefits of including calcium and certain nutrients into our daily meals. Research findings also support the role that protein plays for living a healthy lifestyle. As we age, keeping adequate amounts of protein in our diets is necessary for bone health.

The Bony Facts

Bone is a living tissue, and it’s responsible for supporting and protecting other organs as well as storing minerals and helping us with movement. As we age, it is inevitable that we feel the effects of daily stress and wear and tear. For example, your back might ache after sleeping or a knee might throb after a daily jog. Mother Time can’t be stopped from visiting, but you can prepare for her arrival. Being proactive is one way to insure that your bones will last a lifetime. To prevent bone weakness and density loss, consuming the right amount of protein as well as exercise and living a healthy lifestyle are recommended.

What is Osteoporosis?

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services and the Office of the Surgeon General, each year an estimated 1.5 million individuals suffer a fracture due to bone disease. Osteoporosis is called a silent disease because people often don’t know that they have it until they break a bone. As we age, our bones lose density or mass. As a result, bones become weak and may break more easily. The facts presented by the Surgeon General suggest a serious problem.

Here are just a few findings, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services:

– There is documentation that cites alarming high numbers of bone fractures in the elderly. These accidents are primarily caused by bone disease. The most common cause for breaking bones is Osteoporosis.

– Hip replacements and reports of people over age 50 having to go to an emergency due to a broken hip is close to 10 million individuals in the United States alone.

– Researchers are predicting a rise in osteoporosis and the risk of developing it as we age is a 50% chance.

– It affects all genders and although it is more prominent in women, it can also strike men.

Osteoporosis puts you at a greater risk of breaking a bone from having a minor fall, bending to pick up something or doing something as simple as sneezing. These minor accidents or everyday movements can cause a fracture, and this is serious. Like your mother told you, the best time to build strong healthy bones is in childhood, but lifelong calcium intake can help to make up for any early deficiencies.

The Surgeon General recommends eating vegetable protein sources like beans, nuts, seeds, and green vegetables. These are the most favorable sources of protein to insure bone health. Vegetarian diets should be designed so that adequate protein intake is consumed. Grains, rice, and potatoes are not enough.

Experts also say that supplements or some animal products may help in maintaining muscle and bone mass. It will also prevent frailty. Keep in mind that the diets should be designed for the elderly. Animal products should not be the major source of protein in the diet.

Studies on Protein intake

This research study was conducted over a 7- 10 year period and followed 1000 elderly women. The study found increase bone loss and risk of hip fracture in those with a higher ratio of animal protein to vegetable protein in their diet. The scientists concluded that protein requirements were necessary for maximizing bone health, but most of it should be derived from green vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, more than an animal source. (Source: Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001; 73(1):118-22)

Another study, compared protein intake with bone mineral density in the heel in 75 year old women. They discovered at a later age, a higher range of protein intake (above 80 grams a day) contributed to better bone density. Their study supports the importance to insure adequate intake of protein as we age. (Source: Am J Clin Nutr. 2005; 81(6):1423-8)


Protein should be a part of our daily diet for many health benefits, including good bone health. Animal products should not be the only source of protein. Green vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds provide a great source, especially for the elderly. Protein supplements can be included in our maintenance program, but it alone does not insure good bone health. Vitamin D and other nutrients are often recommended because they help as we age in our digestive efficiency. They also maximize the absorption of nutrients that we have in our diet. Exercise will help to maintain muscularity in later years.

Make no bones about it; our bones are living tissue that helps us function daily. Our organs, and other tissues and body parts rely on it for support and functioning. Like our appearance, with time the bones change and it’s a natural process that can’t be prevented. From the time we are born, our bones are changing. The loss of bone density is inevitable, but we can insure a lengthy life of good bones if we start early on a diet of calcium and protein. If we provide them with a little help and daily maintenance, we have the capability of having them last us a lifetime.

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