How Much Protein Should We Eat as Seniors?

With all the dietary information out there, it can become confusing. But it’s important to understand the foods you choose significantly affect your health.  Getting the right level of macronutrients is important for your well-being, especially as you age.

The Role of Protein

Protein plays a large role in your health. As we grow older, we lose muscle mass and strength, which may decrease functioning and quality of life. Researchers have found that getting enough protein as you age may help reduce your risk of muscle loss.

But seniors don’t respond to amino acids the same as younger adults, and protein is not processed as effectively. Older adults may overcome the decreased response by eating higher amounts of protein. Research published in the Journal Nutrients indicated that increased dietary protein is beneficial for older adults to gain leg strength and lean muscle, especially when combined with resistance training.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Gerontology involved 2900 seniors over 23 years. The researchers looked at the level of protein consumption and the risk of becoming functionally impaired. The results indicated that the older adults that ate the highest levels of protein were about 30 percent less likely to become impaired.

How Much Protein Do Older Adults Need?

There are varying opinions on the optimal amount of protein for older adults. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is listed as 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But several studies point to the benefits of higher amounts.

A growing consensus indicates that between 1.2 and 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight may be beneficial. An easier way to remember how much protein to eat is to try to get about 30 to 35 percent of your total calories from protein.

Good sources of protein include:

  • Skinless poultry
  • Egg whites
  • Fish
  • Lean meats
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Legumes

Getting the Right Amount of Other Macronutrients

Protein is not the only important macronutrient. It’s also essential to eat enough carbohydrates and fats. Keep in mind: some seniors may have certain medical conditions that require different percentages of nutrients. The guidelines below are a general recommendation and provide a range.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are vital for energy. The recommendation for seniors is similar to all adults. According to the Institute of Medicine, adults should try to get about 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs. Complex carbs are a better option than simple carbohydrates. Good sources of complex carbs include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal
  • Beans

Fats: Although dietary fat gets a bad rap, you do need some healthy fats in your diet even as you age. Dietary fat provides energy, helps you absorb certain vitamins, and supports cell growth. But as you age, you are also at an increased risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease. So, it’s essential to avoid trans-fat and eat healthy fats. Older adults should get about 20 percent of their calories from healthy fats, which may include:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish
  • Olive oil