Eating more protein as we age helps to keep us strong and prevent muscle wasting. It also reduces the risk of falls, frailty, and infection. Protein stores throughout the body decrease naturally with age. We start to lose muscle mass after age 50, at approximately 1 percent every year or more if we are inactive.
Where does protein come from?
Protein is found in your food and in your body. It is broken down by your body into smaller molecules called amino acids. There are around 20 amino acids in total, and they can be combined in trillions of different ways to create proteins to carry out bodily functions. Our body can produce most of these but there are nine amino acids that we cannot produce and must get through diet. They are called “essential amino acids”. Protein is essential for life. Every cell in your body relies on protein to function, including, skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones, internal organs, hormones, red blood cells and immune cells.
How much protein do you need tostay in tip-top shape as you age?
Evidence suggests seniors may need 1.0–1.3 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. So, for example if you weigh 70kg you would need 70-91 grams each day. Protein needs can be met through both animal foods (lean meats, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, and yoghurt) and plant-based foods (soy products, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds).
High protein foods are also typically high in iron. Low iron can lead to anaemia.
Did you know that a protein rich diet can also help achieve better mental health? Amino acids make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate thoughts and feelings. Consuming certain protein rich foods increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, which help improve mood, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Getting enough protein, along with other essential nutrients, fresh air and regular exercise will help you to live longer and stronger!
Here are a few suggestions to ensure you’re getting enough protein to stay strong and healthy:
Start with a high protein breakfast – eggs! (1 large egg=6g protein), mashed beans on toast, or cottage cheese with fresh fruit.
Lunch/Dinner – grilled chicken, fish, tofu, stir fried veges, lentils, chickpeas or meat stew, tuna (100g can contains 27g protein).
Stuck for snack ideas? Try Greek yoghurt (nearly double the protein of regular yoghurt), hard-boiled eggs, cheese, wholegrain crackers with tuna, almonds, hummus with vegetable sticks, peanut butter sandwich.
Go for whole grain breads rather than white bread.
Try swapping quinoa for rice sometimes it’s also higher in protein.
Protein shakes and powders are a great way to increase your intake and are quick and easy.