high protein croppedYou see, hear and read everywhere these days about high protein diets for fat loss, muscle building and optimal health.  But what about for preventing bone loss?  The amount of protein needed to keep our bones healthy and strong has been a long-standing controversy in the treatment of osteoporosis. The high consumption of animal protein in the average American diet is often cited as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures, yet many recommend a high protein diet as a key component of preventing bone loss.

It has been shown that protein intake affects our bones in several different ways:

  1. Because approximately 30% of bone mass is made up of protein, it is important in the bone re-modeling process of the bone matrix.
  2. A unique protein called insulin-growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is important for regulating bone growth and density.
  3. Protein increases excretion of calcium through the urine.
  4. Protein increases absorption of calcium in the intestines.
  5. Protein along with physical activity are the main stimuli for maintaining and increasing muscle mass, indirectly affecting bone mass.

Dating back to the early 1920’s, studies have shown that the consumption of protein causes an increase in calcium loss in the urine.  Original research suggested that this calcium may be coming from the bones, thus leading to bone loss and osteoporosis.  Later research revealed that protein, although it does cause an increase in calcium excretion in the urine, also increases calcium absorption in the intestines!  All VERY confusing!  In general, it appears that a higher protein diet decreases the risk of bone loss and osteoporotic fractures.

Beyond affecting calcium absorption and excretion, protein, particularly animal protein, has been thought to play an important role in regulating the delicate acid-alkaline balance in the blood.  Many believe that a diet rich in meat, poultry, dairy and eggs may raise the acidity of the blood causing calcium, an alkaline mineral, to be leached from the bones to help neutralize and balance out the acid.  Although there are some individual studies that suggest that a diet high in animal protein intake is associated with increased incidence of hip fracture, most studies find no difference between consuming animal protein or vegetable protein on the risk for fracture.

What about your muscles?  One would think that consuming eggs, poultry and meat would increase our muscle mass.

However, new research suggest that consuming acid forming foods, such as animal proteins, can increase muscle loss! A review by the International Osteoporosis Foundation Nutrition Working Group found that eating an acid-producing diet has negative impact on muscle performance and may impair muscle function.  They concluded that optimizing dietary acid-base balance is important for preserving muscle mass and strength as we age.  The maintenance of adequate bone strength and density with aging is highly dependent on the maintenance of adequate muscle mass and function.  Low muscle mass can also impair balance and result in an increase risk of bone fractures from falls.  So this study does provide some evidence that consuming a higher alkaline based diet (vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit) and shying away from acid producing foods (poultry, meat, dairy, sugary and processed foods) may actually be beneficial to your bones after all.  

What is the current dietary protein recommendations to maintain bone and muscle mass?

The European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ESCEO) recommends optimal dietary protein intake of 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight/day with at least 20-25 g at each meal. For a 140 pound woman, that is 63-76 grams of protein a day which is equivalent to three 4 oz portions of chicken.  So how can you get the protein you need to keep your muscles and bones strong without over consuming acid producing animal proteins? How about plant based proteins? Although plants are not as rich in protein as animal products, they can help with the alkaline-acid balance as well as provide you with many other valuable nutrients. 

                     Highest Rated Plant Based Proteins

Plant Based Protein

Protein Content

Organic Edamame (soy beans) 18 grams per 1 cup
Lentils 18 grams per 1 cup, cooked
Beans (black, lima, pinto, navy garbanzo) 14- 15 grams per 1 cup
Pumpkin seeds 10 grams per ¼ cup
Chia seeds 9 grams in ¼ cup
Quinoa 8 grams per ¾ cup, cooked
Peas 8 grams per cup
Peanut Butter 7 grams per ¼ cup or 2 Tbsp
Oatmeal 7 grams per 1 cup cooked
Wild Rice 6.5 grams per 1 cup
Almonds 6 grams per ¼ cup
Brown rice, long grain 5 grams per cup, cooked
Spinach 5 grams per 1 cup, cooked
Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts 4 grams per 1 cup
Whole wheat bread 4 grams per slice


When increasing your dietary protein, it is important to ensure you are getting adequate calcium to offset its increased urinary excretion.  The ESCEO recommends that postmenopausal women trying to prevent age-related osteoporosis and muscle loss need adequate protein along with 800 IU of vitamin D, 1000 mg of calcium, and exercise 3-5 times a week.

Contact me for more information on how you can optimize protein in your diet along with information on how the BONES Method™ can help you build strong, healthy bones for life!



  1. Sellmeyer, Deborah E., Katie L. Stone, Anthony Sebastian, and And Steven R Cummings. “Deborah E Sellmeyer.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N.p., 01 Jan. 2001. Web.
  2. Wu, Ai-Min, Xiao-Lei Sun, Qing-Bo Lv, Yong Zhou, Dong-Dong Xia, Hua-Zi Xu, Qi-Shan Huang, and Yong-Long Chi. “The Relationship between Dietary Protein Consumption and Risk of Fracture: a subgroup and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, 16 Mar. 2015.
  3. “Which nutritional factors help preserve muscle mass, strength and performance in seniors?” Which nutritional factors help preserve muscle mass, strength and performance in seniors? | International Osteoporosis Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017. <https://www.iofbonehealth.org/which-nutritional-factors-help-preserve-muscle-mass-strength-and-performance-seniors>.
  4. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/3/662.short
  5. Rizzoli, René, John C. Stevenson, Jürgen M. Bauer, Luc J.c. Van Loon, Stéphane Walrand, John A. Kanis, Cyrus Cooper, Maria-Luisa Brandi, Adolfo Diez-Perez, and Jean-Yves Reginster. “The role of dietary protein and vitamin D in maintaining musculoskeletal health in postmenopausal women: A consensus statement from the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ESCEO).” Maturitas 79.1 (2014): 122-32. Web.


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