You may have noticed protein bars and shakes popping up at grocery stores or gyms. Coverage of the benefits of protein is all the rage. So it might be surprising to learn that almost half of older adults are not consuming enough protein, thus negatively impacting their health, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.
What role should protein play in our diet?
"Protein can be thought of as one of the building blocks to our muscles, bones and blood," said Dr. James Metcalf, a medical director with UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. "Not only does protein help keep our body strong, it helps promote good balance and mobility - all important factors to being able to live independently as we age."
Additionally, protein helps combat common signs of aging, like declines in muscle mass, strength and function, which can put you at greater risk of falling and fracturing bones.
But before you grab the nearest protein bar, let's discuss exactly how much protein you should consume each day.
How much protein do I need?
The National Academy of Medicine's recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. For an adult who weighs 195 pounds that's 71 grams per day; for someone who weighs 170 pounds that's 62 grams per day.
While it is helpful to know how many grams of protein you should aim to consume each day, knowing the amount of protein in the foods we eat can be a bit of a mystery. Below are some sources of high-quality protein and the corresponding amount of protein in each, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central database:
- Chicken breast (one): 54 grams of protein
- Salmon (0.5 fillet): 40 grams of protein
- Lentils (one cup cooked): 18 grams of protein
- Black beans (one cup cooked): 15 grams of protein
- Greek yogurt (one container; plain, nonfat): 10 grams of protein
- Egg (one): 6 grams of protein
If you feel you might benefit from adding some sources of protein into your diet, be sure to talk with your doctor before making any drastic changes.
Increasing your protein consumption will not be a silver bullet to keeping your body healthy as you age. Staying physically active is also important to help maintain your health and live your best life.