There are some nutrients that we all tend to worry about not getting enough of as we age. I would put calcium in this group. We are usually so concerned about not including enough calcium in our diet that we take any number of supplements (and often unnecessarily) just “to be on the safe side.”
But there is a nutrient – protein – which we probably don’t even give a second thought since we take it for granted that we get enough of it. But by taking protein for granted, we may unknowingly be putting our health at risk. This is because aging tends to make it harder for us to absorb and effectively use the protein we consume at a time in our lives when we may need more of it to protect our health.
As we age, many of us may have decreased appetite, loss of taste and dental problems that may impact our protein intake. It’s almost as if our bodies are conspiring against us when it comes to protein! In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging suggested that almost 46 percent of adults over the age of 51 don’t get enough protein.
Protein is necessary to help build muscle mass. It is also important to keep our immune systems healthy, give us energy, maintain the correct balance of hormones in our bodies and repair cells. There are over 10,000 different types of proteins in our bodies. Our bodies break these proteins down into their constituent building blocks (amino acids), which are then used to keep us healthy.
While it may seem almost counterintuitive to some people, boomer women need more protein now than we did in our younger years. One reason is for the health benefits it offers. The other is because our mature bodies simply are not as good at using the protein we eat as they were when we were 40 years old – so we may need to compensate by taking more.
Let’s look at why we need to make sure we are getting enough protein:
We need adequate amounts of protein to maintain muscle mass and strength, both of which are important for helping prevent falls while keeping us mobile and agile.
As we get older, we run the risk of developing a condition known as sarcopenia, which is a loss in muscle mass and strength. One of the biggest drivers of sarcopenia is menopause-related hormonal changes. Adequate protein can help counter these issues by keeping our muscles healthy.
As a group, we tend to be more sedentary than we were when we were younger, and this also contributes to loss of muscle mass. Many people first notice this loss in their legs.
When we were younger, we had what could be called “nutritional reserves” that our bodies could tap into when needed, but these reserves are lower in boomer women.
Some suggest that boomers who get enough protein are more likely do better maintaining their ability to do daily tasks such as dressing themselves, using the stairs and walking.
Getting enough protein may also help reduce our risk of developing a fatty liver.
There is a link between getting enough protein and possibly reducing the risk for stroke. (In one study from China, people who had the most protein in their diets were 20 percent less likely to have had a stroke during the study.)
Most people believe that if they are getting the recommended daily amount of protein (better known as the RDA), or of any other nutrient for that matter, they are fine from a nutritional perspective. However, the RDA is the minimum amount of a nutrient that you need to stay healthy. I like to look at it as a starting point rather than as an absolute number.
In the case of protein, the RDA for adults over 19 years old is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This means that, according to the RDA, a 140-pound woman needs around 51 grams of protein a day. To put this in perspective, a salad with a cup of shredded chicken breast and a hard-boiled egg clocks in at around 49 grams of protein. So, it’s fairly easy for most of us to get the RDA for protein throughout the day.
Credible research suggests that boomer women should be targeting at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Using the same 140-pound woman as an example, a target of 1.2 grams per kilogram as a minimum means she should be consuming 76 grams of protein. This is an increase of almost 50 percent!
Note: Before upping your protein intake, please be sure to consult with a competent healthcare practitioner since it may not be indicated for people with kidney disease.
I am a big supporter of the belief that we should get as many of the nutrients our bodies need from food (preferably primarily plant based and cooked at home since we can then control exactly what and how much we are eating). Nutrients in our food are more readily used by our bodies and they also have many other benefits such as fiber and antioxidants.
While many of us should be able to get the protein we need from our diets, it gets more challenging as we age to absorb nutrients from food. So, if after adding more protein-rich foods to your menu, you still are not getting enough protein, your doctor may suggest taking a protein supplement.
If your doctor says a protein supplement (such as a protein powder) would be a good addition to your nutritional tool kit, make sure you are getting one that meets your needs and that it does not have ingredients that could undermine your efforts at good nutrition. These include contaminants, sugars, and artificial colors.
Also be sure you are not allergic to any ingredients, such as soy, whey, egg, rice, peas, or hemp, all of which are used in the manufacture of protein powders.
Last, but not least, having a comprehensive nutrient test on a regular basis can help make sure you are on track with your protein and other nutrients.
Have you ever spoken with your doctor about how much protein you should be getting a day? Have you ever been told you may not be getting enough protein in your diet? If so, what do you do about it? Do you regularly eat foods that are good sources of protein? Do you currently take protein supplements? Please join the conversation.
Tags Healthy Eating