Protein Foods for Osteoporosis

Eating too much protein may be part of the reason why North American women have high rates of osteoporosis, despite our moderate-to-high calcium intakes. Studies have shown that high levels of dietary protein cause calcium to be excreted by the kidneys. High intakes of animal protein are more detrimental to calcium loss than vegetarian proteins. The effect of eating large quantities of protein is rapid, and it appears that the body doesn’t correct for this by absorbing more calcium from food. The protein effect may be very important for people who consume very little calcium or for those who, because of intestinal problems, absorb very little calcium.

While eating very large amounts of protein may not be good for your bones, eating too little isn’t healthy either. Protein is an important structural component of bone, and studies have shown that missing out on this important nutrient might actually increase the risk of hip fracture. The Iowa Women’s Health Study found that dietary protein protected postmenopausal women from hip fracture. Women who ate the most protein had a 69 percent reduced risk of hip fracture compared to women who ate the least.3

Studies have also found that when protein supplements are given to patients with hip fracture, the rate of complications and death is reduced, immediately after surgery and for six months afterwards.4

Based on these studies, it seems clear that it’s important to be meeting your daily requirement for protein. Women at risk for protein deficiency include

• those who live alone and don’t often cook meat, chicken or fish

• those who frequently grab quick meals during the day—bagels, pasta, low-fat frozen dinners

• vegetarians who do not eat animal foods, and do not regularly incorporate high-quality vegetable protein sources into their diet

• those who engage in heavy exercise and fall into any of the above categories

To find out how much protein you need every day, refer to page 33 in chapter 1.

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