Seniors need more protein

Seniors need more protein than younger adults. Once you reach your 60s, you might want to begin upping the amount of protein you consume per day in an effort to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health and other essential physiological functions as long as possible, since older people need to make up for age-related changes in protein metabolism.

Nutrition experts recommend that healthy older adults should consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which is an increase over the RDA for younger adults. This formula translates to:

150-pound senior woman69 to 81 grams per day
180-pound senior man81 to 98 grams per day

This compares to the Recommended Daily Allowances for protein which are:

Babies10 grams per day
School-age children19-34 grams per day
Teenage boys52 grams per day
Teenage girls46 grams per day
Adult men56 grams per day
Adult women46 grams a day (71 grams, if pregnant or breastfeeding)

As you can see, the guidelines for dietary protein intake have traditionally advised similar intake for all adults, regardless of age. This one-size-fits-all protein recommendation does not consider age-related changes in metabolism.  Doctors are now recognizing that this leaves seniors without enough protein and the health problems that brings. A shortfall of protein supplies relative to needs can lead to loss of lean body mass, particularly muscle loss. By the time people reach age 65, they become at greater risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, strength and function. It’s also important to note that simply moving your body with plenty of regular exercise can be just as crucial as protein intake when it comes to maintaining muscle as we age.

Now, for the good news. You can get all the protein you need with plant foods such as beans, lentils, whole grains and nuts. Even better, plant protein doesn’t carry the high price tag of saturated fat and cholesterol that meat and dairy have.  It’s better for the animals and the environment too. Here are just a few examples of some plant foods that are good sources of protein, but there are many more. 

Type of food  Portion sizeProtein in grams
Firm Tofu (soybean curds)4 ounces10g  
Tempeh3 ounces17g  
Cooked lentils1 cup18g  
Oats1 cup10g  
Almonds3.5 ounces21g  

In some cases adding plant protein powder to a daily smoothie can be helpful way to increase the amount of protein consumed. There are several kinds available including soy protein, rice protein and pea protein.

While seniors need more protein, it’s important not to overdo it. Going overboard and eating much more protein than you need can cause problems, as too much protein can put a strain on the kidneys. Plant-based protein is much better for the kidneys than animal-based protein, but it’s still possible to overdo it.

Finally, we need to dispel a myth. The myth is that plant proteins must be combined at every meal to be of any use to the body. This was popularized in the early 70’s by the book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé. The author has since retracted the statement frequently. “In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth,” she said. Unfortunately, the protein combining myth has taken root in the public. Eating a variety of plant foods over the course of a day or two is all that’s necessary to ensure you get the variety of amino acids you need.

As always, check with your doctor before making any changes in your diet or health care.