Osteoporosis is a condition usually associated with ageing in which bone density decreases, making us more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
Researchers from Cornell University have found that reducing the amount of meat in the diet may do more to reduce the risk of osteoporosis than increasing calcium intake. A series of studies conclude that reducing meat intake reduces the risk of losing bone density.
Whether dairy products offer protection from osteoporosis, however, is still undetermined, according to researchers. If dairy products are consumed in a diet high in animal protein, any potential benefit for increased bone density would be undermined.
That’s because animal protein, from dairy products, may leach more calcium from the bones than is ingested, said Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell and Director of the Cornell-China-Oxford Project, the most comprehensive project on diet and disease ever conducted.
Osteoporosis is a potentially disabling disease of later life in which the bones deteriorate and easily fracture, the disease affects 25 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women.
The research analysed the role of dietary calcium in bone density, by following closely the diets of 800 women from five counties that have very different diets in China. The researchers measured the women’s food consumption for three days, collected information on bone density and calcium absorption and excretion from blood and urine tests, and then looked at factors such as height, weight and age in their analysis.
Analyses of these data suggest that increased levels of animal-based proteins, including protein from dairy products, almost certainly contribute to a significant loss of bone calcium while vegetable-based diets clearly protect against bone loss.
This view is consistent with evidence comparing bone fracture rates among different countries, which shows that countries having the highest calcium intakes also have the highest fracture rates. It is also consistent with other studies on nutritionally rich ‘Western’ diets showing that low-calcium, vegetarian diets are associated with increased bone density.
Meat based diets tend to be high in fat and low in fibre whereas plant-based diets are generally low in fat and high in fibre and other substances such as antioxidants, which are proving to be important in preventing cancer.
Although dietary calcium intake is most often the focus of nutritional recommendations for osteoporosis, what’s important is the calcium balance, not just calcium intake. This is another case in which just looking at a single nutrient does not tell the whole story, but you have to consider the whole diet.
Although we know that calcium is an important element of reversing osteoporosis and we get that from dairy products, we also know that having too much depletes calcium. Calcium gives strength to the bones.
Eating foods rich in calcium like low fat yoghurt, non-fat milk, cauliflower, broccoli, sesame seeds, salmon, leafy green vegetables and almonds are all good foods full of calcium. Other foods include, lentils, grains, nuts, kidney beans and soy products. Protein helps keep muscles healthy and support the bones.
It’s also a good idea to cut back on alcohol, soft drinks and caffeine. All of those interfere with how the body absorbs calcium.