The Importance of Protein for an Aging PopulationPresident's Blog
Protein is a vital nutrient that’s important for all age groups because it’s required by every cell in the human body. Since protein needs tend to increase as we get older, researchers are now paying special attention to the protein needs of the people over age 65. This is especially true for older adults who may be dealing with acute or chronic illnesses which causes excessive wear and tear on the body. While dealing with an illness, aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain bone health, muscle mass and strength.
So, here’s the catch-22. Scientists are finding that older adults actually need MORE protein compared to when they were younger, but up to one-third of older adult actually don’t eat enough protein on any given day. Protein intake often falls due to a natural decrease in appetite, or sometimes an inability to prepare meals. Without sufficient protein, the body starts to break down muscle mass and bone strength, leading to an increase risk of falls, fragility and immobility, all of which can decrease quality of life. Yes, this is a VERY important topic.
The good news is that getting enough protein (we’ll discuss exactly how much in a sec), helps older adults retain muscle mass . Studies show that minimizing age-related muscle changes is an important way for older adults to maintain physical function and independence. In a study with older adults aged 85 and up, those who consumed the least amount of protein were almost twice as likely to have difficulty walking or climbing steps as those who ate the most.
Just how much protein should adults have, and does that change for older adults? The standard protein rule in nutrition literature is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for adults. What does that mean in plain English? It means an 80 kg (175 lbs) person requires (80 x 0.8 g) 64 grams of protein per day.
But back in 2013, a study found this protein level was not enough for older adults, who should aim for 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. That’s 80-96 grams of protein for an 80 kg (175 lb) person. For seniors with acute or chronic diseases, the needs are event higher -- 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, which can be accurately calculated by a doctor or dietitian.
An easy way for older adults to remember this without carrying a calculator in their pocket and counting every gram of protein is to aim for 25-30 grams of protein at every meal. It’s also important to spread protein throughout the day. So rather than having plain toast and tea (5 g protein) for breakfast and an 8 oz. steak (56 g protein) for dinner, it would be better to have eggs and a latte at breakfast, a tuna sandwich at lunch, and then a 3 oz. chicken breast for dinner. That’s about 25-30 grams per meal.
Protein is found in eggs, chicken, fish, meat, dairy foods, soy foods, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. There’s even some protein in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, but those are small sources of this important nutrient. For comparison, a 3 oz. chicken breast has 28 g protein; two eggs have 12 g protein; and a cup of broccoli has 3 g protein.
Keep these easy-to-prep high-protein foods on hand to add to meals:
- Hard boiled eggs or our EGGS2go! Snack pack
- EGG Bakes! egg patties
- Roast chicken or turkey breast
- Roast beef
- Canned tuna, salmon or sardines
- Canned beans or lentils
- Greek yogurt
- Cheese and cottage cheese
A diet with sufficient protein can protect you from losing muscle as you age, and that’s vital since we use muscles for everything we do!
President, Burnbrae Farms
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