Regardless of age, a meal without protein is like macaroni without cheese – it’s simply incomplete. While appetites may dictate that soup or buttered toast is an appropriate meal for older adults, long-term care guideless rightfully recommend protein at every meal throughout the day. But is it enough protein? Here’s the latest news on protein for seniors.
Why is protein so important?
Aging is associated with changes in body composition, including increases in fat mass and decreases in lean mass. The age-related loss of skeletal muscle, or sarcopenia, leads older adults to a greater risk of functional impairment and mortality. Adequate protein helps older adults retain muscle mass.
While many things contribute to sarcopenia, inadequate dietary protein intake may accelerate the process. Inadequate protein ingestion affects every body system, since protein is required for:
• Body growth and repair
• Normal blood transport
• Structural support via tendons and ligaments
Additionally, poor protein intake weakens the immune response, making older patients more susceptible to infections, and slowing the rate of wound healing.
Some older adults shy away from meat or poultry because of difficulty in chewing, fear of consuming fat or cholesterol or perceived intolerance. Since animal products are a source of high biological value protein, it’s crucial that your menus incorporate easy-to-chew, nutritious and tasty meat and poultry products that residents enjoy.
Protein in the diet
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g protein/kg body weight/day for adults, regardless of age. This represents the minimum amount of protein required to avoid the loss of lean body mass.
Most LTC guidelines are based on this number. However, the adequacy of this recommendation is being questioned, with many experts suggesting that the number is far too low for seniors, who lose muscle mass more rapidly than young adults due to the natural aging process.
Scientific research indicates that protein intake greater than the RDA can improve muscle mass, function and strength in older adults. Plus, increased protein intake above the RDA may also help with immune status, wound healing, blood pressure and bone health.
Researchers believe that the current RDA may underestimate protein requirements by as much as 30%, especially in older women. Based on recent studies, including a 2014 meta-analysis and review, a better protein range for older adults is 1.0 – 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight/day.
The higher levels of this range are recommended for older adults who, in addition to the normal aging process, are losing more muscle pass due to prolonged periods of physical inactivity – perhaps due to illness, injury or bed rest. The good news? Aging doesn’t impair the ability for the body to turn dietary protein into muscle, even during bed rest. People just need to eat enough protein.
Protein at every meal
The best way to ensure adequate protein intake is to make sure that good-quality protein foods are included with each and every meal. It may also mean exceeding the LTC protein guidelines used in your province.
For the average 165 lb (75 kg) person, an intake of 25-30 g of protein for each of three daily meals represents a daily protein consumption of 1.0-1.2 g/kg/d. The range may be a bit lower – about 15-20 grams of protein per meal, in older adults with lower body weights.
High quality protein is found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods.
Try serving Maple Leaf Ready Links Breakfast Sausages at breakfast (7g of protein/two links) along with two eggs, Maple Leaf Country Sausage for lunch (16g of protein/two sausages) and Maple Leaf Pork Drummie for dinner (each 142g Drummie contains 31g of protein), to ensure protein at every meal.
Some other Maple Leaf products that are excellent sources of protein:
Maple Leaf ProductAmount of ProteinProduct Code
|NEW BBQ Beef Ribette||16g/85g Ribette||41434|
|Healthy Selections Pork Chop||24g/90g Chop||21364|
|Healthy Selections Original Sliced Pork||32g/90g (3 slices)||21354|
|Healthy Selections Original Sliced Beef||29g/90g (1 ½ slices)||21352|
|Healthy Selections Shaved Beef||21g/90g||01188|
|Healthy Selections Meatloaf||19g/90g Piece||21375|
|Salisbury Steak||17g/111g Steak||41432|
|Pork Rib’its||24g/112g (2 pieces)||30299|