We need to eat more protein as we age
Say the word “protein,” and it conjures up everything from Paleo and Atkins diets for weight loss, to soy protein for heart health, and whey protein for muscle building.
At the other end of the protein spectrum are claims that too much can harm your kidneys, or that the key to good health is to avoid animal protein and focus on eating only plant protein.
The science behind how much and what type of protein your body needs is complex. But the tide seems to be shifting as more and more researchers suggest one simple fact: For most of us, protein needs are greater than called for by current dietary recommendations.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) say adults of all ages should have a protein intake of 0.8 grams/kilogram body weight/day. To calculate protein needs, multiply .8 by your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2; that’s 55 g./day for a 150-pound person. Note: This is based on the amount of protein required to avoid a deficiency.
However, researchers now believe diets that provide more protein than the RDA may improve health by helping to prevent obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, according to a study from 2009 in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Protein needs rise with age
While the current RDA for protein stays the same regardless of age, researchers now believe the amount of protein intake becomes even more important as we age. Calorie intake often decreases with age, but protein requirements do not.
“When we’re young, hormones help us use dietary protein very efficiently for growth. Adults need more dietary protein to maintain healthy muscles and bones,” said protein researcher Donald Layman, professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois-Urbana.
A recent report on the protein needs of older people concluded that to maintain physical function, healthy older people need more dietary protein than younger people — in the range of 1.0 g./kg. to 1.2 g./kg./day. That translates into 68-81 g. of protein/day for a 150-pound person (Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2013.)
Older people who are acutely or chronically ill need even more — 1.2 g./kg.-1.5 g./kg./day (81 to 102 g. of protein/per day for that same 150-pound person).
If you’re trying to manage your weight or simply eating less than you used to, getting enough protein is even more important for your overall good health.
The bottom line? Protein needs are based on weight, not calorie intake, so even if calorie intake drops, protein intake should stay the same or increase as you age.
Necessary for strong bones
Protein is necessary for energy balance, blood sugar regulation and bone health.
While there has been a widely held belief that high-protein diets were bad for bones, causing calcium to leach out and leading to osteoporosis, research now suggests that calcium and protein intake interact to actually improve bone health.
As part of the Framingham Offspring Study, researchers found that greater protein intake may benefit bone health in older women, especially those with lower calcium intakes, according to research published in Public Health Nutrition last year.
Protein makes up about 50 percent of the volume of bone and one-third of its mass.
Researchers also are discovering that the way in which dietary protein is distributed throughout the day is important. To maximize the muscle-building and help prevent bone loss, daily calcium intake should be adequate (1,000 to 1,200 milligrams/day) and protein should be provided with each meal.
Ways to get more protein
Researchers suggest about 25-40 g. of high-quality protein (proteins that provides all the essential amino acids) at breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Current Opinions in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism Care, 2009.) Small meals that contain less than 15 g. of protein provide no benefit to muscle health, Layman said.
“Ideal protein intake doesn’t mean extra large serving sizes,” he said, “but 25 to 40 grams of protein at each meal. A balanced diet should provide proteins from a mixture of foods that may include milk, meats, eggs or beans.”
Here are a few examples of high-quality proteins to include in your diet. One or more of these should be present at each meal:
Beans (7 g./½ cup)
High-protein breakfast cereals (up to 13 g./1 cup)
Eggs (7 g./1 large)
Skim milk (8 g./cup)
Lean beef and pork (21-24 g./3 ounces)
Nuts — peanuts, pistachios and almonds are highest (6-7 g./1 ounce)
Veggie burgers (11-15 g. each)
100 percent whey protein powder added to smoothies and shakes (up to 24 g./1 ounce)
Greek yogurt (12 g./5 ounces)
Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.
© 2014 Belvoir Media Group. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.