Why Older Adults Benefit from a High-Protein Diet

For the sake of our health, and the health of the environment, the United Nations and leading nutrition experts in the US would like us to eat less meat.

Why Older Adults Benefit from a High-Protein Diet
Andy Chilton

Following this advice would significantly cut down the amount of protein in our diets. That’s okay for some people, but not necessarily for older adults.

Typically, we take in less protein as we get older. But why?

A variety of reasons exist. For example, maybe you’re eating smaller portions these days, splitting an entrée with your dining companion, or making a meal out of soup and salad rather than steak and potatoes.

Calorie needs do decline with age, but cutting back your protein intake — or, if you do most of the cooking in your household, cutting back on a loved one’s protein intake — could have unintended consequences.

Why Protein Matters as We Age

A diet that’s low in protein can accelerate the loss of muscle tissue and bone as we age, translating into weakness, frailty and an increased risk of injury from falling. In fact, based on evidence presented at a 2013 meeting of the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, a panel of experts recommended that people over 65 take in as much as 50-75 grams of protein every day (or the equivalent of 1.0–1.5g protein/kg body weight/day).

How to Have a High-Protein Diet

Getting 75 grams of protein every day may seem like a tall order, especially if you wait until dinnertime to get started. (16-ounce sirloin, anyone?) However, divided up over the course of the day, it’s much more doable. Keep in mind that when you consume your protein is just as important as how much.

According to research conducted on dietary protein recommendations for older adults, we should take in 25-30 grams of high-quality protein per meal.

Some of the best sources of protein include:

  • Non-fat cottage cheese (6 oz.) – 22g
  • Whey protein (1 scoop) – 24g
  • Egg whites (6 oz.) – 24g
  • Tofu (1/2 cup) – 20g
  • Salmon (4 oz.) – 25g
  • Canned tuna (4 oz.) – 26g
  • Chicken – light meat (4 oz.) – 35g

For too long, dietary guidelines have overlooked the ways our nutritional needs change as we age. Getting more (and not less) protein as we head into our golden years may be one of the keys to extending health, strength and vitality.

About the Writer

Monica Reinagel

Monica is a board-certified, licensed nutritionist and professionally trained chef. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, CBS News and Morning Edition, as well as leading newspapers, magazines and websites. She’s the author of six books, including Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet, and creator of the Nutrition Diva podcast (one of iTunes’ most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts).

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