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Produce Builds Healthier Bones

Healthy bones need fiber, muscle-building protein and a generous dose of fruits and vegetables.

Your gut may benefit from that morning bowl of high-fiber cereal, but your bones could pay the price. That’s because eating lots of grains, as well as protein, causes the body to produce excess acid, which leaches calcium from bones.

So how can you get your fiber and muscle-building protein and still maintain bone strength? Eat more produce, according to a new study.

“When fruits and vegetables are metabolized, they add bicarbonate, an alkaline compound that helps offset the potential damage of acid-rich foods,” explains lead researcher Bess Dawson-Hughes, M.D., of Tufts University. In her study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the January issue of theJournal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 171 older men and women were given either a bicarbonate pill or a pill with no bicarbonate. Those getting bicarbonate pills for three months increased their bone health while losing less calcium than the placebo-takers did. “This suggests that increasing the alkali content of the diet may attenuate bone loss,” says Dawson-Hughes.

Instead of taking pricey bicarbonate pills, which most doctors don’t advise, she recommends getting the damage-preventing compound by eating 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, while skipping at least one daily serving of grains, such as bread or rice. Among the best choices for added fruit: traditional cereal toppings. “Raisins, dried fruit such as apricots, and bananas have the most alkaline,” she says.

Lynda Frassetto, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, says the new study demonstrates the importance of acid/base balance in maintaining skeletal health. “The typical American diet is acid-producing,” she says, “so neutralizing acid intake reduces bone breakdown.”

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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