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Preventing Protein Deficiency: Power Up Your Diet with the Right Foods and Drinks
Popeye might’ve gobbled down spinach to grow his muscles, but maybe he should’ve been getting enough protein. Along with carbohydrates and fats, protein gives us the energy our bodies need to function well, particularly as we age.
Did you know that by age 65, protein needs typically jump 25-50% for healthy adults? And for those managing chronic health issues, those needs can rise by a whopping 88%!
Yet by age 71, research shows 50% of women and 42% of men aren’t getting enough.
Luckily, a few small changes to your diet can make all the difference. But first, let’s take a closer look at the power of protein.
The health benefits of protein are many, but it is probably best known for building and preserving muscles. As early as age 30, our bodies start to lose muscle mass – as much as 3-5% per decade – and a protein-deficient diet can contribute to muscle loss. When that happens, not only are you less physically strong, but your mobility and balance can be affected, making you more susceptible to falls and fractures.
Protein is essential for a healthy immune system, so your risk for infections and illness can rise when you’re not getting enough. You also may experience swelling in the legs or find that wounds are slower to heal when you are protein deficient.
But these problems don’t have to be inevitable parts of aging!
It’s easy to prevent protein deficiency with a few simple strategies, like incorporating high protein drinks or protein-packed snacks into your day to support your muscles and overall health.
Your needs mainly depend on your age, your activity level and how much you weigh. Experts recommend that healthy older adults get 1 gram of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight. For a 150-pound adult, that would be 75 grams of protein per day.
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), kidney disease or other chronic diseases, your needs may be even greater.
One good way to make sure you’re preventing protein deficiency is to try to get protein at every meal. Whether you choose to reach for high protein drinks or other food sources, aim for 20-35 grams at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Variety is the spice of life – so keep things interesting with your protein choices, too. Mix things up throughout the week with different animal- and plant-based sources (think meat, seafood, eggs and dairy, plus beans, nuts and whole grains). Animal-based foods typically offer “complete protein” with all the amino acids you need, while plant-based options often provide added fiber and other health benefits.
Fortified beverages like high protein drinks are also a great way to up your protein intake while staying hydrated, especially since many older adults fall short on meeting fluid needs. Beverages fortified with protein plus vitamins and minerals that support healthy aging, like vitamin B12 and vitamin D, give you more bang for your nutritional buck and will keep protein deficiency at bay.
On your next grocery store trip, stock up on these nutritious, protein-packed choices:
Talk to your healthcare provider for questions or concerns about any diet or lifestyle changes and to find a plan that's right for you.
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