Protein: The Other Bone Builder

Healthnotes Newswire (December 20, 2007)—We’ve all heard about the importance of getting enough calcium to help build strong bones. Now new evidence points to protein as another not-to-miss nutrient for bone health.

Adolescents need about 1,300 mg of calcium per day, an amount that many teens—especially girls—do not get. Less is known about the influence of protein intake on bone health during these years, however. Some studies have cautioned that getting too much protein might lead to calcium loss, while others show that too little protein could also harm bones.

The new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, aimed to determine the effect of protein on bone health in adolescents and young adults. As part of the Saskatchewan Pediatric Bone Mineral Accrual Study, 133 people gave information about their dietary habits and underwent bone health testing. By comparing nutrient intakes and bone studies at different critical times in skeletal development, the researchers discovered that both protein and calcium play a critical role in bone development.

Protein intake predicted the amount of total body bone mineral content (a measure of bone mass) gain over time in all of the people. Protein had a positive effect on bone growth in girls who got enough calcium (more than 1,000 mg per day); those girls who did not get enough calcium did not get the same benefit from protein.

“The results of this study suggest that protein intake has a beneficial [bone building] effect on bone during critical years of bone mineral mass development in females and that an appropriate intake of calcium is necessary for this effect,” the authors concluded.

Bone-building tips for teens

The bottom line: Both calcium and protein are essential for building strong bones. Teens, here’s how to do it:

• Aim for 1,300 mg of calcium per day from a variety of sources: 1 cup of milk or yogurt contains 450 mg, 1 cup of fortified orange juice contains 300 mg, _ cup of tofu has 200 mg, 1 cup of broccoli contains 90 mg, and 1 ounce of almonds contains 70 mg.

• Eat a moderate amount of protein-rich foods, particularly bean and grain combinations, poultry, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products: 100 grams of protein per day should be an adequate amount.

• Get plenty of fruits and vegetables, which provide other nutrients essential for healthy bones.

• Maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle. Adequate weight is necessary for bones to develop normally, and bones grow and strengthen in response to exercise.

(J Nutr 2007;137:2674–9)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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