Recent research published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging revealed that elderly people in the United States commonly fail to consume a sufficient amount of protein to remain healthy. In fact, the researchers found that approximately 46% of elderly adults failed to consume an adequate amount of protein on a regular basis, and more than one-third consumed less than half of the amount of protein recommended for their needs.

Protein is required to maintain muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass can lead to falls, fractures, difficulty walking, and a general decline in an individual’s quality of life. Muscle loss is a known consequence of aging, commonly diminishing our muscle mass and strength by approximately 50%. The most important methods for defending ourselves against this decline are to ensure that we consume a sufficient amount of healthy protein and to get an adequate amount of exercise.

Scientists at the Ohio State University in Columbus recently analyzed data from 11,680 adults over the age of 51 contained in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, collected between 2005 and 2014, in order to analyze the protein intake of this population. The researchers discovered that the participants whose protein intake was low were more likely to have functional limitations and a poor quality of life.

The scientists also discovered that people who failed to meet their recommended protein requirement were far more likely to have an overall diet that was less healthy than their peers. In particular, it was noted that protein-deficient participants tended to also be deficient in a variety of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

The takeaway message for us is simple: we should be conscientious about consuming adequate amounts of healthy protein daily. How much protein do we need? The guidelines provided by nutrition experts is:

  1. Sedentary individuals should consume 0.36 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 150-pound sedentary person would require approximately 54 g of protein per day.
  2. People who exercise moderately for 40 minutes, 3-5 days a week, require approximately 0.5 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 150-pound moderately active person would require 75 g of protein per day.
  3. People who exercise intensely several days a week may require as much as 0.9 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 150-pound person who engages in intense exercise consistently may require as much as 135 g of protein per day. Admittedly, the third category does not usually apply to elderly people, but there are exceptions!

It is very important to note that the protein recommendations mentioned above are provided for people whose weight is within a healthy range. People who are either overweight or underweight should determine their protein requirements based on what a healthy weight for them would be.

In any case, before making changes in your diet, it is important to check with your doctor.

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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