The importance of protein meals for seniors

By Lethia Lee - Contributing columnist
Lethia Lee -

Eating protein at all three meals instead of just at dinner might help seniors preserve physical strength as we age physical strength, new research suggests. The study found that protein rich meals evenly spread throughout the day staved off muscle decline, but did not increase mobility, in older people. For seniors it is important to create three meal occasions with sufficient protein to stimulate muscle building and greater strength, instead of just one.

The functional decline associated with aging often leads to falls, mental impairment and loss of independence. Also research has shown older adults require a higher amount of protein. Eating protein throughout the day seems to be a means to stay in a positive protein balance longer than just eating most of your protein for the day in the evening meal. It does make sense that to distribute protein intake evenly throughout the day is likely beneficial to everyone, young and old.

You should also note that eating protein alone throughout the day is not a silver bullet. You can’t just eat a steak and suddenly have biceps. In general, one ounce of meat, poultry or fish or one egg, one tablespoon of peanut, one-quarter cup of cooked beans or one-half ounce of nuts or seeds qualify as an ounce of protein, according to the USDA. Muscle protein is constantly being broken down and built back up. We need protein in our diet daily to make this happen.

Grocery shelves are full of products pitching their protein content, in energy bars, cereals even pasta. But how much protein do you really need in a day. And if you follow a plant based anti-aging diet, can you get enough of this fundamental nutrient? A protein primer is an essential nutrient, and we need to get it from food every day because our bodies don’t store it as they do fats and carbohydrates. Adults over the age of 20 should aim to get between 60-70 g of protein each day. A chicken breast contains about 30 g; a half–cup of Greek yogurt about 15 g.

Animal sources of protein such as fish, poultry and dairy usually supply all the essential amino acids. Plant sources such as beans and legumes often lack one or more of the essential amino acids, so getting a broad range of protein-rich foods such as rice and beans or legumes and grains in addition to animal sources is best.

In other words, we cannot conclude that older people had greater strength because they were ingesting protein evenly at each meal. But we can conclude that this concept has been researched and has been proven to be a workable benefit for seniors. If it works for seniors, why not for everyone else.

For more information on protein in your diet contact Lethia Lee at 910-592-7161 or you may email her at [email protected] with the Cooperative Extension Office.

Lethia Lee Lee

By Lethia Lee

Contributing columnist

Lethia Lee is the EFNEP program assistant for the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center.

Lethia Lee is the EFNEP program assistant for the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center.