Plants for Strong Bones

by Jennifer Moore

“But don’t I need milk to build strong bones?” It is not uncommon for me to hear this question when teaching classes/clients plant based nutrition. First let’s discuss the process of osteoporosis.

Every food we digest produces an “ash”: acid or base. Animal protein produces an acid ash. Vegetables produce higher levels of base. Our bodies achieve pH balance by excreting excess acid in the urine. As we age, we become less efficient at the process so we need a buffer. Calcium is base, i.e., a buffer. Bone is our reservoir of calcium. When women eat diets high in animal protein, the blood needs to be buffered due to the acidity caused by diet. Bone resorption (breakdown) accomplishes this by the transfer of calcium from bones to the blood. High meat and dairy intake, therefore equals weak bones.

This is the story of osteoporosis; not the Dairy Council’s story of a lack of intake of cow milk.  Isn’t it interesting that the four countries whose population consumes the greatest amount of dairy products are the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, and Finland. The four countries whose population has the highest incidence of osteoporosis are the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, and Finland. It’s true. Americans have the highest calcium intake in the world, as well as the highest hip fracture rates due to excess salt, caffeine, sugar, and animal products that leach calcium out of bones and promote urinary calcium loss.

So now, what about calcium? Where can a person get calcium if not from the cow? The table below give you plant based sources and compares them with dairy. Most importantly check out the absorption rates. If the calcium is not absorbed, it is not helpful.

Food (1 Cup) Calcium/Serving  Calcium Absorbed/Serving  Amount Needed to Absorb 100mg Ca in Cups 
Fortified Orange Juice 300 108 7/8
2% Milk 297 95 1
Fortified Soy Milk 300 93 1
Mixed Grain Cereal 306 92 1
Kale, Frozen 180 106 1
Turnip Greens, Frozen 198 102 1

So if strong bones are important to you, ditch the dairy and animal products. Avoid foods that pull calcium from your bones, and exercise. Exercise has been shown to strengthen bones. Further research for your review listed below:

The Nurses’ Health Study followed 72,337 women for over 18 years and found that dairy intake did not reduce the risk of osteoporosis-related hip fractures.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,(2003), 77(2), 504-11

Lanou and colleagues conducted a metanalysis (compilation and review of studies) of 37 studies regarding dairy and supplemental calcium.  Of the 37 studies, 27 showed no relationship between dairy or supplemental calcium and bone mineralization/fracture risk in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2005;115(3):736-743.

A study involving female teen exercise patterns was performed.  In this study, calcium showed no relation to BMD at 18 years of age or bone mineral gain from 12-18 years of age.  Exercise did improve BMD and mineral gain. Pediatrics.  2000;106(1): 40-44.

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