Protein builds strong muscles. Our bodies naturally lose muscle mass as we get older, even if we exercise, so it’s important for seniors to eat plenty of protein. Protein also helps boost your immune system, your ability to recover faster from an injury or illness, and maintain health when dealing with a chronic disease. Interestingly, a 2019 study revealed that only about half of seniors get as much protein as they should.
How Much Protein Do Seniors Need?
For adults of all ages, the recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.36 grams for each pound of body weight. That’s about 54 grams if you weigh 150 pounds. However, if you’re 65 or older, the recommended amount rises to 68-83 grams for a 150-pound individual.
Here are some examples of protein content in common foods, though exact amounts will vary according to the specific product:
- 6 ounces of Greek yogurt, 14 grams
- A half-cup of cottage cheese, 14 grams
- 3 ounces of skinless chicken breast, 26 grams
- 4 ounces beef steak, 29 grams
- A half-cup of white beans, 6 grams
- A half-cup of lentils, 9 grams
- One cup of whole milk, 8 grams
Spread It Out
As you age, your body processes protein less efficiently. Research shows that seniors obtain the most value from protein by eating some throughout the day. That means eating about a third of your protein intake at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Eat Real Food!
That’s the advice from Mark Holmes, The Goodman Group’s national director of culinary operations. As an experienced executive chef he may be a little biased, but in fact, his advice is echoed by medical experts who focus on senior health. For most seniors, they say, supplements are not needed if you eat a well-balanced diet.
Protein shakes might seem like an easy solution, but your body needs fiber and the many other nutrients found in whole foods. Conversely, packaged products fortified with protein (cereals, baking mixes, pastas, and protein drinks and powders) may also contain undesirably high levels of sugar. Read the label and choose products with the least added sugars or other additives. Better yet, choose real, whole foods.
Protein isn’t a single thing, it’s actually a group of nine amino acids, all of which are essential in their own way. Animal proteins, soy, and quinoa are all considered complete since they contain all nine, whereas other plant proteins include many but not all amino acids. So eating a varied diet not only tastes better, it helps ensure you’re getting a full range of proteins.
Good sources of animal protein include:
- Dairy products
Good plant protein sources include:
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Beans (green as well as dried varieties, including edamame)
- Whole-wheat pasta
Adding protein-rich, real-food ingredients such as low-fat yogurt or nuts can improve the nutritional value of many menu items, even desserts and snacks.
Sometimes, Supplements Are Necessary
Seniors with certain chronic illnesses may require more or less protein than average. Or, they should avoid certain protein sources. For example, excess protein exacerbates kidney disease, and for those with lactose intolerance dairy products are nutritious but uncomfortably difficult to digest. And while some seniors are focused on keeping their weight down to a healthy number, others are at risk of unwanted weight loss. If that’s you, your doctor or dietician may recommend protein supplements.
Every senior is different, but getting an appropriate amount of protein is essential. By making an effort to eat foods that offer a variety of plant and animal protein sources, and by incorporating protein into every meal, seniors can feel confident knowing they are eating meals that are not only good but good for you!