Protein is an essential nutrient for all age groups, but it's particularly critical to get enough as you age. Protein is a backup source of energy when carbohydrates and fat aren't available, and it helps repair skin and tissues and improves skeletal strength. Before making changes to your diet, check with your physician to ensure you're getting enough protein without going overboard.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that men over age 50 get at least 56 grams of protein daily. For women in this age bracket, 46 grams a day is the minimum. Still, this may be too much or too little for you, depending on your weight and health status.
Getting More Protein
Calculate your optimal protein requirement to get a more exact idea of your needs. The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, is 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight, regardless of age. However, researchers from the University of Arkansas Department of Geriatrics found that going above the RDA is particularly beneficial for seniors. As published in the 2008 "Clinical Nutrition" journal, researchers noted that getting 1.5 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight can improve health. This higher recommendation may boost immune health, aid in wound healing, help control blood pressure and even keep your bones as strong as possible.
Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms. For example, at a weight of 150 pounds, or 68 kilograms, following the RDA for protein means you should get 54.5 grams of protein daily. But the higher 1.5-gram-per-kilogram recommendation from the University of Arkansas researchers would up your intake to 102 grams. This equates to roughly 15 to 20 percent calories from protein.
Consider the Source
While lean meats, seafood, lentils, beans and low-fat dairy products are some of the healthiest protein-rich foods, consider other options. Whey protein, a dairy byproduct, may be particularly beneficial for older adults. Researchers at the University of California Davis compared soy to whey protein. For their study using healthy seniors, published in the 2010 "Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences," a control group received soy supplements while a test group was given whey. All participants got Streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine. By the end of the eight-week study, the whey protein group had a higher immune response, lessening their chances of getting sick. So if you have a hard time chewing high-protein foods or find it difficult to meet your recommendation, you could benefit by adding whey protein to smoothies, oatmeal or juice.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Dairy Proteins and the Response to Pneumovax in Senior Citizens -- A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study
- Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) -- Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients
- Clinical Nutrition: Optimal Protein Intake in the Elderly.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010