By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Study Shows Older Adults May Need a Protein Intervention
It can be really confusing when it comes to figuring out what and how much nutrients you need to stay healthy. Generally, our bodies require six groups of nutrients to stay healthy: water, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and protein.
Protein, can be a bit tricky regarding when it comes to knowing how much is considered enough for our health. For example, many Americans believe they get plenty of protein (maybe even more than they need).
“Most American adults eat about 100 grams of protein per day, or roughly twice the recommended amount. Even on a vegan diet people can easily get 60 to 80 grams of protein throughout the day from foods like beans, legumes, nuts, broccoli and whole grains,” according to one source.
The source referenced above says that a healthy adult woman needs about 46 grams of protein a day, and a healthy adult man needs 56 grams of protein a day.
So based on all of this information, it may appear that protein is one of the six nutrients that we “don’t really need to worry about.”
However, there are those who may argue that protein is the one we need to worry about the most especially as we age.
I’ve previously discussed that older adults may need more protein. This nutrient is key in muscle building and repair. And as we age, we may naturally lose muscle. This natural part of aging can put us at risk of falls and may make us less mobile, affecting our quality of life by making it more difficult to do the things we want to do.
“The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick — not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day,” reports Harvard Health.
You see the difference? Depending on your age and activity level, you may need more than the RDA. (Check out this online protein calculator).
One study suggests that older adults should maybe have an RDA of protein of at least or more than 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Well, who is considered an older adult?
Elderly is usually someone who is 65 years or older. But it’s important to note that we may start to lose muscle mass and function as young as 30. So knowing this information can help us get ahead of our aging and we can be more proactive.
Recently, I came across a study that, to me, had shocking results.
The study found that protein intake in older adults is significantly different among different ethinic groups and races.
The population of older adults continues to grow (which I think is good because it shows we have the ability to live long lives), however, “A contributing factor to the age-related changes in muscle is insufficient protein intake by older adults who fail to consume adequate protein levels,” according to this report discussing the study.
What I found so shocking is that the study looked at 273 older adults (60 years and up) both male and female who were African American, European American or Hispanic American and found that protein intake was lowest among African Americans.
This was surprising to me because many African Americans are meat and egg eaters, which are foods high in protein.
Here is what the researchers saw among the different groups as far as their protein intake was concerned:
- Hispanic Americans (0.96 g/kg body weight)
- European Americans (0.83 g/kg body weight
- African Americans (0.64 g/kg body weight)
Overall, no one had a very high protein intake.
“Average protein consumption (per kg body weight) among all groups was lower than newer recommendations suggesting consumption of at least 1.0 to 1.2 g protein/kg body weight.”
The researchers tested the participants’ grip strength and other strength test assessments such as timed-up-and-go (TUG) to test the ability to stand up from a seated position. They also assessed the participants’ nutritional status.
The results revealed the following: “Low nutritional status, grip strength, chair rise and TUG scores were observed in African Americans and European American females and were consistent with lower protein intakes.”
“When comparing the grip strength measures to the guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, the findings identified European American females and African American females and males with grip strength that is indicative of sarcopenia (a medical condition characterized by reductions in muscle mass, strength and function).”
This means that older adults, especially African Americans and European American females, really need nutritional intervention and may need to up their protein. It may not sound as serious as other health issues, such as cancer and dementia, but it is really something that needs to be addressed.
“Low grip strength [which is associated with an inadequate protein intake] has consistently been linked with greater risk of disability, prolonged length of stay with hospitalization or surgery, complications and premature death.”
It is also important to note that along with protein intake, the researchers assessed the participants’ vitamin D status. This nutrient is also very important for muscle strength and function. All of the participants exhibited good vitamin D levels.
So how can we be proactive?
Every individual is different. We all age differently and have different activity levels. So speak with a competent healthcare professional about what your personal protein needs are.
Including regular exercise is also extremely important in delaying the reduction in muscle and bone loss that naturally occurs with aging.
And eating an overall nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is imperative to help prevent age related muscle loss. Minerals and vitamins such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D may help maintain strong, healthy bones. And your bones protect your internal organs and provide support for your muscles.
It is also extremely important to determine whether you are absorbing adequate amounts of nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat as you age. Your body’s ability to absorb nutrients decreases with age. And one of the best ways to determine whether you have any nutrient deficiencies is to obtain a nutritional test. Finally, speak with your doctor about any medications you are taking, as these may deplete vital nutrients necessary to keep your muscles in good shape.
Enjoy your long, healthy life!
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