As you walk the aisles of the grocery story, you might be noticing the latest label to grace cereal boxes, loaves of bread, dairy products and frozen meals.
High in Protein.
From protein-enriched pasta (brands like Banza use chickpeas instead of wheat) to high-protein Greek yogurt (Two Good yogurts boast 12 grams of protein per carton), protein is showing up everywhere, and experts recommend boosting protein can help older adults build and retain muscle, feel full longer, strengthen bones and more.
With all of this information, of course, come questions. How much protein is enough? How can we get adequate protein in our diets? Is there such thing as too much protein?
Here’s what you need to know:
How Much Protein Does an Older Adult Need?
According to the dietary guidelines for 2020-2025, protein intake recommendations include:
55 grams (g) for adult males
46 g for adult females
These guidelines do not make distinctions between adults of different ages. So, a 25-year old male is recommended the same amount of protein than a 55 year old male.
Males, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans(p. 97), generally consume enough protein (and perhaps sometimes more than necessary). Women, however, often consume less protein than recommended. So, for many women, focusing on increasing protein consumption should be a focus of a healthier diet.
Also, lifestyle factors can affect protein needs. For example, persons engaging in moderate to intense physical exercise may need more protein. Some experts suggest the following formula to determine protein needs if exercising:
1.0, 1.3 or 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of weight
For example, a 150-pound woman needs 88 g of protein using the 1.3 calculation.
How Much is Too Much Protein?
Researchers note that many people can consume up to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of weight without negative effect.
Consuming too much protein has been linked to digestive, renal and vascular issues, however. More than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight may be problematic, so speaking with a registered dietician or physician is important.
How Can Protein Intake Benefit Overall Health?
According to research in the journal Nutrients, researchers note, “Protein intake greater than the recommended amount may improve muscle health, prevent sarcopenia, and help maintain energy balance, weight management and cardiovascular function.” Proper protein intake can help us prevent chronic illness, improving over all quality of life.
Adequate levels of protein can contribute to the following healthy functioning:
- Carrying oxygen throughout the body
- Providing fuel for energy
- Increasing muscle mass (avoiding sarcopenia, which is loss of muscle)
- Boosting metabolism
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing Cholesterol Levels
Protein is a macronutrient vital to our overall health and functioning. The benefits of eating enough protein go far beyond building muscle and affect all parts of the body.
What Are Some Good Sources of Protein?
When we think of protein, many of us immediately think of animal protein or meat. While meat is a great source of protein, other sources exist that offer protein as well as other nutritional benefits.
Excellent sources of non-meat protein include:
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese)
- Soy products (milk, tofu, edamame)
- Beans (Great Northern Beans and lentils are particularly high in protein)
- Nutritional Yeast (a plant protein that also provides zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and all B vitamins including B12)
- Seeds (hemp, flax and chia are all excellent options)
- Nuts (which also provide healthy fats, iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and some B vitamins)
Adding these options to meals can help boost protein consumption while also providing vitamins, minerals and fiber.
For meat eaters, the following have high amounts of protein:
Lean Chicken Breast (54 g protein in a 6 oz. breast)
Lean Pork Chops (50 g protein in 6 oz. pork tenderloin))
Tuna (50.8 g in a 6 oz. filet)
Beef (48.7 g in a 6 oz. skirt steak)
Eggs (6.3 g per egg)
Meat provides more than protein, too, including iron, B vitamins, fat and more.
What are some tips and tricks for adding protein to my diet?
Paying attention to protein intake and overall diet is a key component to good health and wellbeing. Energy levels, muscle development, brain development and more are all affected by the foods we eat.
Ensuring adequate protein intake is a powerful step toward a healthy diet. Adding protein to our daily diets is important for any age including after 50, when muscle loss becomes an issue and bone strength is definitely on the radar. Taking simple steps can make a big difference.
Try these tips for assessing and upping protein intake if you find yourself or a loved one isn’t getting enough protein each day:
- Assess your meals. Look at each meal throughout the day, add up your protein intake (online diet calculators can be helpful like MyFitnessPal) and track your numbers for a week or two. This will give you a good idea if you need to add more protein to your diet.
- If you find you do need more protein, make a list of your favorite protein sources. If you love fish, add it to the list. If you have a favorite bean soup recipe, include it, too.
- Think outside of the box. Try to think of protein sources you may not eat regularly like nuts, seeds or dairy. Add these to your list to round out a complete personal protein plan.
- Start adding protein to one meal at a time. Adding too much of anything at once can sometimes lead to digestive discomfort (such as gas, bloating or constipation). Even adding too much water or fiber at one time can be hard for the body to adapt to. Start slowly, adding an extra egg to your breakfast or a cup of Greek yogurt. Then, after a week or two, add a bit more protein to other meals.
- Have fun. Explore new foods. Revisit old recipes. Try to make adding essential nutrients, like protein, fun and exciting. When health efforts are boring, they don’t typically last. For sustainability, adding more protein should feel good, taste good and be easy to do daily!
With slow, consistent effort, you can adjust your diet to meet your body’s needs and feel great!
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