3 Questions (And Answers) You May Have About Protein for Seniors

Recent research is indicating that people 65 and older should include more protein in their diets than what they might be used to. This new understanding might explain why many adult children we talk to have questions about how to make sure their loved one is getting the right amount of daily protein to stay healthy and strong.

Protein has a number of benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight, building lean muscle and repairing tissue. Here, we answer the most common questions that adult children have regarding protein’s role in seniors’ diets.

How much protein do seniors need?

Adult children often wonder if protein is still as important for their parents, who may not be as active as they once were.

Many doctors recommend that seniors consume up to 35 percent of their daily calories as protein. And yet, the average senior consumes a mere 16 percent. And because elderly people naturally lose muscle mass and strength as they age, they can experience issues like insulin resistance, a loss of essential minerals in bones, and a greater risk of falling.

Women over age 50 are especially in need of protein-rich diets. After menopause, women often struggle to maintain muscle tissue and are more prone to injury, underscoring the need to increase the role of protein in our diets as we age.

The recommended amount of protein for seniors depends on your loved one’s weight, as well as other factors. Use the USDA nutrition calculator to see their customized recommendation.

What high-protein foods are good for seniors?

Good sources of protein for seniors include chicken, lean ground beef, and many types of seafood. But while it is often associated with meat, there are also a number of meat-free alternatives to getting protein into an older parent’s diet. Beans are one great source, because they’re also low in fat. Soy is another great source of protein for seniors because it can help lower cholesterol.

Some experts recommend trying to get a source of healthy protein into each meal, including breakfast. Consider recommending that your loved one have eggs or supplemental smoothies for breakfast. Low-fat dairy products such as cheese and Greek yogurt are great protein-rich additions to lunch, and ground beef can contribute to a high-protein dinner that’s easy to consume. As for healthy snacks, you can spread some peanut butter or almond butter across wheat bread of bananas or keep a bowl of mixed nuts in your loved one’s apartment.

Because protein is filling, sometimes seniors lose their appetite rather quickly after eating only a little bit of protein-rich foods. Surprisingly enough, there have been studies that seniors who aren’t eating enough can benefit from eating dessert first to help stimulate their appetite. If this is the case for your loved one, consider serving them Greek yogurt sprinkled with low-sugar cookie crumbs or a vanilla maple granola to satisfy their sweet tooth.

How do I know if my loved one is getting enough protein?

Common signs of low protein intake include poor concentration, mood swings and digestive issues. Further, because protein supports collagen production in hair, skin and nails, brittle nails or hair loss can be another sign of low protein.

Protein is needed for a healthy metabolism, so if you notice your loved one is gaining weight, their diet might be too high in sugar, fat and empty calories. And because protein is necessary to recover from injury, you should ensure that your loved ones are getting enough protein if they are prone to falling.

Keep in mind that many symptoms of low protein can also be the natural effects of aging. But if your loved one is experiencing many of these, they may need to add more protein to their diet. At The Preserve at Clearwater, we plan balanced diets plus we work with our residents on specialized meal plans to ensure they are getting the protein and other nutrients they need to live happy, healthy lives.  We welcome you in the evaluation stages to join us for a lunch and learn to meet our Culinary Director or upon residency to participate in monthly resident food committee meetings to ensure that your nutritional needs are adequately being served.    

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