Nearly half of older adults don’t get enough protein – and that’s a problem. While a nutritionally well-rounded diet is vital at any age, and increasingly so as we get older, protein is particularly important to support aging muscles, prevent disability, and much more.
Added to that, protein needs tend to increase with age due to factors such as inflammation, chronic disease, wound healing and some medications like steroids that chew it up. The body may also struggle to digest and use the available protein as well as it used to.
Muscles and more
Muscle mass declines with each passing decade after the age of 30, to the extent that it’s estimated we lose a third to a half of muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 80.
This can impact muscle strength, power and balance, increasing the risk of falls and fractures which are major problems for older adults. Severe muscle wasting can lead to sarcopenia, a serious and prevalent condition that has gained greater recognition in recent years.
Muscles don’t just make us strong, smooth muscle has an array of different roles in important processes such as keeping the heart beating, digesting food, blood flow, and even vision.
Protein is also important for bone health; it gives structure to cells, helps cells communicate, and supports the immune system so it can fight off viruses and bacteria.
How much protein?
Dietary guidelines recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, but this is a bare minimum required to prevent muscle loss. For optimal health, professionals suggest people over 65 should get at least 1-1.2 grams per kilogram. So, someone weighing 60 kilograms should aim for 60 to 72 grams a day – and more if recovering from an injury or doing strength training exercises.
Signs that someone is not getting enough protein include muscle loss, weakened immune system, decreased bone density and low lustre skin and hair. Increased hunger is also a sign that the body needs more protein as it will generate food cravings until its protein needs are met.
It’s generally thought that protein is best derived from meat, fish and chicken. Eggs and dairy foods are also highly nutritious sources. But it’s now established that plant protein is just as good – even for heavy duty muscle builders. This includes legumes, nuts and seeds – especially quinoa – and hemp. For people who are struggling to meet their needs, powders between meals are a great way to boost protein levels. Top quality sources include whey and pea protein powders.
People with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, might have particular problems meeting their protein needs. To support them, Proportion Foods have SmartServeTM products especially formulated according to international guidelines for dysphagia (IDDSI).
These food products, designed with dietitians, comprise an extensive range of soups, snacks and desserts. They are available for hospital patients and residents in long term care and are suitable for special dietary needs including high energy high protein (HEHP) and gluten free diets.
The products include soups for IDDSI level 3 and desserts for IDDSI level 4, all with up to 8 grams of protein per serve and available via food service distributors. Check out our product page for more information.