A recent poll (Seven Seas October 2015) has revealed that many empty nesters are eating unhealthily. They seem to lose incentive to cook meals when their children leave home and tend to rather grab a cup of tea and some toast than eating a proper meal. In the study of 2000 people of over 60, almost half admitted that their diet isn’t that healthy and 12% admitted that it was worse than it had been in the past when they had to make healthy, balanced meals for their children. Why is this so concerning? Is protein important to your diet as you age?
Your body changes as you age
As you age, your body composition changes. You start to lose muscle strength and mass due to a number of factors such as changing hormones, reduced muscle response to the intake of protein and , for some people, less physical activity. The fancy term for this slow loss of muscle mass is sarcopenia and it can bring with it all kinds of health problems. Sarcopenia can start even before the age of 50, says IL-Young Kim, a researcher into Aging and Longevity.
The people polled in the Seven Seas survey admitted to turning to ready meals and snacks instead of eating healthy, balanced meals. They also owned up to skipping breakfast or lunch and having a snack instead. Some even skipped an evening meal about once a week. Several of those polled admitted to only cooking meals when they had visitors. Some admitted to regularly over-eating while others tended to under-eat. These habits are concerning because they are at the age when it can really matter to their future health and wellbeing.
How much protein do you need?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The issue of protein intake in older people, however, is quite controversial. Some experts regard high protein intake to be harmful for older people. Other studies suggest that older adults require more protein/kilogram body weight than younger adults. IL-Young Kim says the majority of older adults need to consume about 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day and also suggests getting most of your protein from animal sources. Some people do not eat animal protein and they need to use foods like Chia, soy and quinoa to get all the essential amino acids their muscles need. For those who are concerned about higher protein intake because they have been told it causes bone loss, studies that prove exactly the opposite have also been done (Hannon et al, 2000).
High quality versus low quality proteins
If you live on hot dogs and think you are consuming enough protein, you are sadly mistaken. Eating too much low quality protein such as processed meat products can increase risk of cancer and other diseases. Bacon, salami and hot dogs are all regarded as low quality proteins. What foods fall into the high quality category? Animal proteins like red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese are all high quality sources of protein. They are a source of vitamin B(12), iron, biotin, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Eggs are one of cheapest sources of high quality protein.
Plant based sources of protein like seeds, nut and beans are also very useful.
5 Tips for including more high-quality protein in meals:
- Replace red meat or processed meat with fish, poultry or some of the plant-based protein sources. Find 19 great vegetarian protein sources here in a graphic you can pin for easy reference.
- Replace processed carbohydrates like pizza, pastries and chips. Here are some delicious low carb recipes for breakfast.
- If you tend to snack on crisps and other unhealthy snacks, replace them with substitutes. You may want to try these zucchini parmesan crisps.
- Add nuts and beans to salads, soups and stews to boost protein intake. Here is a spinach salad with nuts, apples, feta and bacon.
- Eat Greek yogurt instead of a baked dessert. Here is a recipe for a chocolate mousse made with Greek yogurt.
Benefits of protein intake:
- Sharpens your mind. Fish and nuts, for example, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and they can decrease risk of dementia and improve focus.
- Boosts resistance to stress, infection and overall immunity.
- Improves mood and helps prevent anxiety and depression.
- Helps reduce muscle loss and maintain physical function, keeping organs, bones and muscles stronger for longer. If you add strength training exercises into your routine, you’ll not only build muscle, but automatically end up wanting to eat more protein-rich foods.
- Eating nutrient-dense foods means you consume less calories and this helps to keep your weight in check.
I would love to hear from you if you have any comments or other tips on how to include high quality protein in your diet.