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It is well known that calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health, but the role of protein has been controversial.
When protein is metabolized in the body, acid is generated. This acid has to be neutralized and calcium is a natural ‘buffer’. Since an increase in dietary protein results in greater calcium loss in the urine, it was thought that excess dietary protein pulls calcium out of the bones, and subsequently weakens them.
Is Protein Bad for Bone?
A scientific meta-analysis (where researchers do an exhaustive search of the medical and scientific literature and base conclusions on what the highest quality studies collectively demonstrate) found that protein did not have a negative effect on bone mineral density (BMD). In fact, there was a slight positive effect of dietary protein on BMD. There was no effect, either positive or negative, on fracture incidence (1).
So based on this extensive review, and commentary from other researchers (2-3), it can be concluded that protein is not bad for bone health. So will eating more protein increase your bone strength? Maybe, however large long-term studies are still needed to confirm this.
The Importance of Protein
Protein is an excellent source of energy and has multiple roles in the body: muscles, hair, skin, enzymes, antibodies, hormones, neurotransmitters and for storage and transport of other molecules. Unfortunately, many seniors, especially if they are living on their own, and subsiding on ‘tea and toast’, do not get enough protein in their diet.
A poor quality diet can lead to weakness, fatigue, sleeping problems, nutritional deficiencies, and a host of other problems. This is a disaster for the well-being of seniors, those most susceptible to osteoporosis, and may worsen the chances of a fall.
Improving Dietary Intake of Protein
In our low-fat world, many foods are being shunned because of their fat content. Eggs, nuts, cheese, milk and other dairy products are easy sources of protein for older adults and seniors. Additional dietary sources of protein include meat and legumes (but these often take more preparation and/or cooking time).
One of the easiest ways to add more protein to our diet is to have it at breakfast. It has been shown that having a caffeinated coffee and either a muffin, bagel, or donut at breakfast dramatically increases insulin levels in the body. Having this type of breakfast repeatedly over time, may increase your chance of developing diabetes.
All of us, no matter what our age, can benefit from having some protein in the morning. I personally start my day with a protein shake, made from high quality whey protein.
- Protein has a slight positive effect on bone mineral density, not a negative effect as previously thought.
- Protein is an important component of everyone’s diet, and should NOT be avoided by those with osteoporosis.
- Incorporating modest amounts of protein in the diet of older adults and seniors will enhance overall health.
- Having a protein shake or a protein-rich food in the morning is a healthier choice than a "coffee-and-a-carb" breakfast.
1. Darling, AL et al. (2009) Dietary protein and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 90: 1674-92.
2. Kerstetter, JE (2009) Dietary protein and bone: a new approach to an old question. Am J Clin Nutr 90: 1451-2.
3. Bonjour, JP (2005) Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. J Am Coll Nutr 24: 526S-36S.
For a number of people the smell of bacon and eggs frying causes the mouth to water. Others just need a quick breakfast fix such as an muffin or Waffle that will get them through the morning rush. What if I tell you that you’ll be craving something sugary by mid-morning to help you get the extra boost in energy.
When you eat simple carbs or sugar, all of the ingested sugar quickly rushes into your bloodstream. You typically feel a quick rush of energy. Your body reacts to this sudden spike in blood sugar by having your pancreas produce additional insulin to remove excess sugar from your blood. And for the moment you have significantly lower blood sugar as a result of the insulin doing its job, resulting in a sense of needing more fuel, more energy and more calories. And as you hit that residual low blood sugar, you begin to crave more and more simple sugars initiating the downward spiral of sugar cravings.
A breakfast high in protein can give you the perfect start to your day. Protein can be a great way to fuel, help stabilize your blood glucose levels and prepare you for any physical and mental challenges throughout your day.