Bone and kidney health

bone and kidney health

Meat is a rich source of protein and if you eat a lot of it, it can be a problem for your kidneys and bones. It’s because meat protein contains more sulphur amino acids than plant protein. These amino acids produce sulphuric acid when digested – it puts a strain on your kidneys because it makes them work harder and requires calcium to neutralise it. If you have enough calcium in your diet, your bones won’t be affected but if you have low calcium intake, your body may use calcium from your bones to try and balance the acidic effects of animal protein (Weikert et al., 2005; Mangano et al., 2014).

In people with compromised kidney health, eating too many acid-forming foods may make matters worse, contribute to bone and also muscle loss (Dargent-Molina et al., 2008; Frassetto and Sebastian, 2013; Scialla and Anderson, 2013). On the other hand, unprocessed plant foods may help.

The Singapore Chinese Health Study investigated diets and fracture risk among 63,257 Chinese men and women (Dai et al., 2014). Two distinct types of diet were identified: the vegetable-fruit-soy diet, characterised by vegetables, fruit and soya foods, and the meat-dim-sum diet, rich in meat and refined starchy foods. Results showed that compared to people eating the meaty diet, people eating the diet rich in vegetables, fruit and soya products had a substantially lower risk of hip fracture.

A study of 757 young girls compared the effects of plant and animal protein on bone growth and strength (Zhang et al., 2010). Results showed that protein from animal foods, particularly meat, had negative effects on bone density. Another study compared the effects of animal and plant protein in the diets of overweight and obese postmenopausal women trying to lose weight (Campbell and Tang, 2010). They found that the portion-controlled diet with meat promoted bone loss compared with the one without meat.

According to a major review by the US National Osteoporosis Foundation (Weaver et al., 2016), bones need a good protein supply and plant protein does the job better than animal protein. The authors also concluded that fruit and vegetables have a positive effect on the bones, while carbonated (fizzy) drinks may have a negative effect. Lastly, they highlighted how important physical activity is for bone health, growth and development – bones need to be stimulated to be strong.



Campbell WW and Tang M. 2010. Protein intake, weight loss, and bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Journals of Gerontology. Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 65(10) 1115-1122.

Dai Z, Butler LM, van Dam RM et al. 2014. Adherence to a vegetable-fruit-soy dietary pattern or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index is associated with lower hip fracture risk among Singapore Chinese. Journal of Nutrition. 144 (4) 511-518.

Dargent-Molina P, Sabia S, Touvier M et al. 2008. Proteins, dietary acid load, and calcium and risk of postmenopausal fractures in the E3N French women prospective study. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 23 (12) 1915-1922.

Frassetto L and Sebastian A. 2013. Commentary to accompany the paper entitled ‘nutritional disturbance in acid-base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney’, by Jean-Philippe Bonjour. British Journal of Nutrition. 110 (11) 1935-1937.

Mangano KM, Walsh SJ, Kenny AM et al. 2014. Dietary acid load is associated with lower bone mineral density in men with low intake of dietary calcium. Journal of Bone Mineral Research. 29 (2) 500-506.

Scialla JJ and Anderson CA. 2013. Dietary acid load: a novel nutritional target in chronic kidney disease? Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease. 20 (2) 141-149.

Weaver CM, Gordon CM, Janz KF et al. 2016. The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s position statement on peak bone mass development and lifestyle factors: a systematic review and implementation recommendations. Osteoporosis International. 27 (4): 1281-1386.

Weikert C, Walter D, Hoffmann K et al. 2005. The relation between dietary protein, calcium and bone health in women: results from the EPIC-Potsdam cohort. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 49 (5) 312-318.

Zhang Q, Ma G, Greenfield H et al. 2010. The association between dietary protein intake and bone mass accretion in pubertal girls with low calcium intakes. British Journal of Nutrition. 103 (5) 714-723.

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