Some very interesting studies have recently come out about bone density and calcium.

We all know that calcium is important for bone health. Bones low in calcium tend to be less dense, which is known as osteopenia or, more severely, as osteoporosis. These bones tend to break easier.

Yet, studies conducted worldwide over the past 20 years have found something very interesting. They conclude that countries (in Asia and Africa) with low calcium intake have low rates of hip fractures. Counties that consume the most dairy and calcium supplements (the United States, Australia, parts of western Europe) have the highest rates.

Here’s a good place to step back to examine our assumptions. We assume a diet low in calcium means bones with less calcium. If we only eat enough calcium, and  make enough vitamin D, our bone density will be good, we conclude.

There is, however, another very important task for calcium.

Calcium, by way of calcium bicarbonate, has a major hand in maintaining the pH of our blood. Regulation of blood pH is very important and if it were not finely maintained between 7.35 and 7.4 pH (slightly alkaline) we would be in serious trouble.

The United States, Australia and parts of western Europe consume a lot of protein, which seems to make all the difference in terms of calcium/ bone health. Our blood tends towards an acidic pH if we eat a lot of protein.

If our blood tends toward higher acid levels, more calcium is called out to buffer the blood, and some of this calcium is withdrawn from the bones.   On the other hand, a diet too low in protein will interfere with the absorption of calcium through the intestine.

Overall, it appears that both low- and high-protein diets are detrimental to bone health.

How much protein is just right for our diet and bone health?  Author Michael Pollan suggests a meal portion of  protein as big as a deck of cards, or the size of your palm (minus fingers).

Fruits and vegetables also balance blood pH by contributing a more alkaline residue.

Author Pollan’s diet advice is short and sweet: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” What he means by “food” is something your great grandmother would recognize (and be able to pronounce) but that’s food for another blog.

Thomas Jefferson liked to say that the meat portion of his meal was his “condiment,” a small but tasty treat. It seems like our bones would like that too.