Plants Preserve Muscle Mass

VegetablesWe’ve always been dear friends, staunch allies, and devoted advocates for our edible friends in the plant kingdom. Whatever craziness descends upon our lives and our society, there’s sanity, indeed healthful respite in a bountiful, brimming, vibrant dinner plate of vegetables.

And now there’s even more reason for veggie veneration. Research from Tufts University funded by the Agricultural Research Service suggests that potassium-rich plant foods can help older men and women maintain their lean muscle mass.

“What?! Well, I’ll be damned.” We know! We said it too!

We’ve always loved vegetables (and their fruit compatriots) for their antioxidants, their minerals, their fiber. But this had us bowing down at the cornucopia, we have to say.

The researchers followed 384 men and women age 65 years or older for a total of three years, measuring urinary potassium excretion, which was “significantly positively associated” with the maintenance of lean muscle mass levels.

Their urinary potassium was measured at the start of the study, and their dietary data was collected at 18 months. Based on regression models, volunteers whose diets were rich in potassium could expect to have 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than volunteers with half the higher potassium intake. That almost offsets the 4.4 pounds of lean tissue that is typically lost in a decade in healthy men and women aged 65 and above, according to authors.

via Science Daily

The researchers suggest that “net [dietary] acid load” impacts the preservation of lean muscle mass in later years. Cereals and proteins contribute to the acidity of the diet and over many years can result in a “metabolic acidosis” that the researchers say correlates with sarcopenia, or muscle loss. Fruits and vegetables, even if they are acidic themselves, are processed or metabolized by the body to alkaline “residues.” These alkaline residues appear to counteract dietary acidity and significantly lessen or prevent acidosis and associated muscle loss in older adults.

The maintenance of lean muscle mass in later years is of crucial importance for overall health and longevity. Regular resistance training and a solid intake of good quality protein are cornerstones for maintaining muscle. But now we add another dimension to the picture, and wouldn’t you know it’s one we’ve suggested (albeit for other reasons) all along. A high intake of vegetables and low glycemic fruits not only contributes to overall health, it preserves muscle. This is the sensibility behind the Primal Blueprint after all: what kept our ancestors strong and healthy for millions of years is darn likely to do the same for us moderns. There’s some food for thought to enjoy with that lunch salad!

Thoughts? Cheers? Questions? We want to hear them.

computix Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Primal Blueprint for Both Men and Women?

The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging

Tips for “Hardgainers”

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

TAGS:  Aging, prevention

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14 thoughts on “Plants Preserve Muscle Mass”

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  1. Cool. I love it when research backs up something I already do:) Although two questions:
    1. Anyone know what the best plant sources of potassium are? I know bananas are at the top but what about veggies?

    2. What do you guys think about that line “proteins contribute to the acidity of the diet and over many years can result in a “metabolic acidosis” that the researchers say correlates with sarcopenia, or muscle loss.” Does that impact your feelings about eating meat at all? Do you think it only applies to conventionally farmed high Omega-6 meat? Do you just feel you need to eat more veggies to balance out the negative effect?

  2. It shouldn’t sway you from eating meat. Most of our diets are so heavy in vegetables/fruit and lacking in grain that I don’t think we have to worry.

  3. Funny and ironic how the pic illustrating the post is….of a bunch nightshades….

    Tsk tsk…

  4. Charlotte,

    We don’t concern ourselves with that protein-acid argument because, as Ari says, if we eat enough plants (and cut the grains)the alkaline part is well-handled. That argument was always faulty anyways, since it only applied to massive amounts of protein, which we don’t eat in the PB.


    We’ll have a talk about nightshades in a few weeks. Yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc., while technically nightshades, have so little of the alkaloids in question as to be insignificant. Then there are the cucumbers, parsley and other non-nightshade varieties in the photo. Picky, picky…

  5. Tangential to the acidosis prognosis of grains and cereals:

    The general trend towards an acidic body can cause the onset of gout if one is predisposed towards that rather annoying form of arthritis. For years I took a drug to keep gout at bay but I would still have an attack every year or two. (And the drug is hard on the liver.) For the last couple of years I’ve eaten a mostly vegetable/fruit diet, with a few pieces of meat every week, and I have not had an attack since then.

    I wonder if an alkaline body chemistry would help with other forms of arthritis.

  6. How exactly (biochemistry-wise) dose eating an acid or alkaline food affect blood PH? I thought that it only affected urine…

    Grok relied on meat for a large part of his existence, so why on earth would he have a mechanism that makes a vegetable-empty diet turn his blood PH acidic?

  7. I don’t think that there is a way to differentiate between it being the potassium, accompanying vitamin c or this acid/alkaline ash stuff. We have to isolate our variables and something like this doesn’t allow for that.

  8. An avocado has 35% more potassium than a banana. Avocados contain an abundance of minerals. Vitamins C, K, E, and some B vitamins are in there too. The majority of the fat is monounsaturated.

    Don’t like avocados because of the fat content? There were hospital studies done in the 1950’s on weight loss which showed that initially weight stabilized obese people lost weight on 1000 and 2000 calorie per day diets consisting of mixed macronutrients, 90% fat, or 90% protein. Some of the obese participants actually gained weight on the 90% starch diet.