Bones and the Defense of the Acid-Alkaline Balance
You likely know that bones store the vast majority of the body’s three-plus pounds of calcium. Maintaining proper calcium levels within your body will help increase bone health. When blood calcium declines to dangerous levels, the body draws calcium out of the bones to replenish it. If the body withdraws more calcium from bone than it deposits, over time it depletes the bones’ reserves, and the resultant loss of bone mass leads to osteoporosis. But bone also holds most of the body’s essential alkali reserves. These mineral compounds take the form of alkalizing calcium salts and are capable of buffering, or detoxifying, acids. They stand by in the blood, body fluids, cells, tissue and bone to buffer any excess acids produced by the body’s biochemical workings—neutralizing them through spontaneous biochemical reactions that keep the acids from accumulating.
A diet that balances base- and acid-forming foods maintains the body’s systemic pH balance. If acid-forming foods predominate, however, as is the case in the typical Western diet, the first-line alkali reserves in the blood and cells are soon exhausted and the body starts using
minerals stored in the bones.
The body’s goal here is basic survival, and if it becomes even slightly acidic, it willingly sacrifices the structural integrity (strength) of the bones in order to recover the systemic acid-base balance. Simply put, the body places its short-term need to survive above a long-term need for bone health and strength.
Diet and the Acid-Base Balance
Diet is clearly a major influence on the body’s acid-base balance. Certain foods, such as proteins, grains, beans, coffee, white sugar and many processed foods, generate free acid as they are metabolized. Other foods contain mineral compounds such as potassium citrate and magnesium salts that generate bicarbonate, the body’s main compound for detoxifying and removing metabolic acids from the body.
A diet balanced in base-forming and acid-forming foods creates little or no acid buildup and no threat to bone alkali reserves. A base-forming diet is familiar to humans; in fact, scientists calculate that during the vast majority of human evolution our diet was, indeed, overall base forming. The contemporary diet of industrialized countries, however, is uniformly acid forming or “acidogenic.” Returning to an alkali-rich, base-forming diet provides the cornerstone of a new diet for healthy bones.
Back to Basics
Our prehistoric past provides key insights for a modern healthy bones diet. Our ancestral diet was nutrient dense—rich in vitamins, minerals, phyto-compounds, omega-3 fatty acids and protein. This balanced diet provided sufficient alkaline-forming foods to buffer the acids produced as a by-product of eating lots of animal flesh. Ancestral bones, it appears, were only infrequently sacrificed in order to maintain critical systemic pH balance.
Following our ancestors’ lead, bone health can be improved by a healthy diet that should be nutrient rich and contain:
Fruits in a variety of colors
4–6 servings a day (one serving equals one fruit or 6 oz fruit juice)
Vegetables of low and medium starch content (in a variety of colors)
2–4 cups mostly cooked vegetables
1–2 cups raw leafy salad vegetables
Grains/High-Starch Root Crops
7–8 servings a day (one serving equals one slice whole-grain bread, 1¼2 cup dry or hot cereal or 1¼2 cup cooked rice, other grain or pasta)
Animal protein (fish, poultry, meat, eggs)
2 or fewer servings a day
Nuts, Seeds and Dried Beans
1–2 servings (one serving equals 1¼3 cup nuts,
2 tablespoons seeds or 1¼2 cup dried beans, cooked). If you don’t eat meat, include one or two servings of beans a day.
Fats and Oils
2–4 servings a day (one serving equals 1 teaspoon vegetable oils or butter, 1 tablespoon salad dressing or 1 tablespoon cod liver or flax seed oil). Include 500–1,000 mg Omega-3 oils.
A daily serving of 1 cup yogurt or kefir or 2–3 oz. tempeh or sauerkraut. Use pickled vegetables, umeboshi plums or miso as condiments.
3–5 times per week (one serving equals 2 small whole grain cookies; 3¼4 cup pudding, compote, ice cream, sherbet or sorbet; 1 small piece fruit-based dessert or piece of cake) As near as possible, today’s healthy bones diet should include adequate amounts of all the 19 key bone-building nutrients (See sidebar opposite), at least 64 ounces of water and a 15-minute “serving” of sunlight to maintain internal vitamin D production.