High-protein diets have made a name for themselves when it comes to weight loss. But even for those with no need to lose weight, the issue of protein is critical. Although protein is the essence of life itself (our muscles, skin and bones contain it and every cell of our body utilizes it), recent research suggests the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy adults over 50 may not be adequate.
Your body relies on protein to build and repair body organs, muscles and bones and to make enzymes, antibodies and hormones, all of which are needed to keep your body running smoothly. Protein is made up of amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids that your body needs, eight must be obtained from the food you eat and are considered essential, while the remaining 12 are made by your body and are “nonessential”.
About 75-percent of the protein you eat should be high quality, as determined by its amino acid makeup. “Complete” or high-quality proteins contain all eight essential amino acids and come from animal sources (milk, eggs, meat, poultry and fish) and foods made from soy (tofu and tempeh). Most plant proteins (legumes, nuts, rice and other grains) are “incomplete” because they do not contain all the essential amino acids. But by combining incomplete proteins in a meal, you can amass protein of sufficient quality to be considered complete (beans and rice, peanut butter on whole grain bread, milk with cereal).
Protein requirements may increase with age. That is because changes in the function and capacity of all body systems occur with aging, including a gradual loss of lean body mass, like muscle. Although this loss means your body needs fewer calories, your protein needs are unchanged or perhaps increased. This challenges older individuals to consume enough protein without consuming extra calories.
So, How Much Protein is Enough?
The RDA for protein is based on body weight. Recent research indicates that the current recommendation (0.36 grams per pound of body weight) may not be sufficient to maintain muscle mass in healthy people over 50, and that an increase (to 0.45 grams per pound of body weight) may be recommended. A 125-pound woman would need approximately 56 grams of protein daily to maintain her muscle mass. Unless you are ill or recovering from surgery or injury, you do not need a high-protein diet. But it would be wise to discuss your protein needs with your doctor or dietitian.
Getting the right amount of protein plays a vital role in your health. Do you know what your protein needs are? Calculate them with the equation and peruse the following table for suggested foods for protein consumption. Calculate your daily requirement, keeping in mind 75-percent must be high quality protein.
Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 grams. Example: 125 x 0.36 grams of protein equals 45 grams of protein per day.
Commonly Eaten Foods and their protein content in grams
3 ounces chicken breast (no skin) – 26g 1 ounce cheddar cheese – 7g
3 ounces beef, veal or pork – 25g 1 medium-sized egg – 7g
3 ounces white fish – 18g 1/2 cup cooked pinto beans – 7g
1/2 cup cottage cheese – 13g 1 ounce nuts – 6g
8 ounces 1-percent milk – 9g 1 slice wheat bread – 4g
2 tablespoons peanut butter – 8g 1/2 cup white rice – 2g