Got Fruit? Female Bones Need More Than Milk

Milk builds strong bones, but fruit does, too, new research shows.

It's the first study showing that eating an abundance of fruit affects bone mineral density (search) (a measure of bone strength), writes researcher Claire P. McGartland, PhD, with the Northern Ireland Center for Food and Health at the University of Ulster.

Her study appears in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

While diet is known to affect bone strength, relatively little attention has been given to one aspect of bone health. Specifically, it's the influence that diet has on the body's acidity (search). Most people eat a diet that generates acids, she explains. This increase in acid levels is thought to reduce bone strength.

Eating foods that buffer the acidic foods builds strong bones, McGartland suggests. Many fruits and vegetables have this neutralizing capacity. "Nutrients found in fruits and vegetables may be protective for bone health" for this reason, she writes.

To evaluate this, McGartland and her colleagues evaluated the nutritional habits and bone health of 1,345 Irish teens (aged 12 to 15). Nutritionists conducted intensive interviews with each child, getting detailed information about each meal and the foods they typically ate, including serving size.

The kids' height, puberty status, smoking, social status, alcohol intake, supplement use, and physical activity were all factored into the study. Bone density of their heel bones was also measured.

The teenage girls who ate a large amount of fruit had the strongest bones.

The findings are based on a large number of healthy adolescents, making the finding reliable, she writes. Also, the integration of other factors known to affect bone health — such as body weight, physical activity, and smoking — were all taken into consideration in the final result.

This is the first study to link fruit intake and strong bones, McGartland writes.

Although veggies did not show up as an important factor, it has in other studies, she notes. Kids in her study didn't eat many vegetables, she notes. "Our finding is not surprising, because on average, U.K. children eat less than one-half of the suggested target intakes for fruits and vegetables," she writes.

She advises women and young girls to eat plenty of fruit — as "a cost-effective means" of building strong bones.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

SOURCE: McGartland, C. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2004; vol 80: pp 1019-1023.