Is Mom Eating Enough Protein?

Most seniors and their adult children have gotten the message that to stay healthy they need to exercise and focus some attention on strength training to improve balance and muscle strength. 

What many people do not realize is that researchers are learning that as we age, we need more protein in our diet to keep muscles and joints strong. To get the full benefit of those yoga classes or aerobics seniors have to pay attention to what they eat. 

With the exception of people with chronic kidney disease who must limit the amount of protein they consume, the recommended dietary allowance is for adults to divide body weight by three to calculate the number of protein grams per day.  For example, a 150-pound person would need 50 grams of protein/day. Some experts, like Donald K Layman of the University of Illinois at Urbana, make a strong case for changing the dietary guidelines, almost doubling the amount. 

In addition to promoting bone and joint health, Layton notes that diets with increased protein have now been shown to improve adult health with benefits for treatment or prevention of obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and heart disease 

Better food choices and dividing it out across meals 

Nutritionists recommend spreading out the protein during the day because the body can only use about 30 grams at a meal for muscle building. So for example, eat half of a chicken breast at lunch and the other half at dinner. This can help many older adults with smaller appetites get the protein they need.

Need help understanding grams? Each 1-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish contains an average of 7 grams of protein. An egg contains 6 grams, and a cup of milk or a serving of yogurt is 8 grams. 

protein.jpgThe best approach is to eat protein with each meal. Switching to a high-protein breakfast, such as a vegetable omelet, yogurt and fruit or oatmeal with milk. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are more concentrated with protein and are other good choices.

For those seniors battling extra pounds or concerned about weight gain, choose leaner chicken, turkey and white fish (same protein content but roughly half the calories per ounce compared to beef) and fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. If lactose intolerance is a problem, try lactose-free varieties or soy milk.

Protein makes us feel fuller faster, and can help us reduce overall calorie intake at subsequent meals. So limiting protein to a single meal, late in the day, certainly works against any weight management plan. It also works against our body’s metabolism to use protein to build bone and muscle.

We offer good protein options at every meal in our communities. Maintaining the health of muscle and bone is an essential part of the aging process and critical to maintain mobility and health. Protein needs are proportional to body weight and the body cannot store a daily supply. So, even if Mom is inactive she needs to eat protein throughout each day.