The importance of protein, especially as we get older, cannot be understated. This versatile nutrient plays a number of important roles in the body, from building and maintaining muscle, to contributing to bone health, to supporting the immune system, and so much more.
How Much Protein is Needed?
Everyone’s protein needs are a bit different. That’s because how much you need depends largely on how much you weigh, your activity level and health status. When you get older, your protein needs increase a little, and they go up even more if you’re sick, injured or malnourished. The general protein estimate for healthy people 65 and older is 1 gram of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight (e.g. 75 g protein for 150 lbs.) per day.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for 20-35 grams at every meal or snack, since spreading out your protein throughout the day helps you meet your goals.
Good Sources of Protein
Protein acts as a vital building block within our bodies, but we get it from the foods we eat. You don’t need to go on a protein-only diet, but it is important to make sure you get protein-rich foods every time you sit down to a meal or snack.
There are two main types of protein: those that come from animal sources and those that come from plants. A balanced diet includes a wide variety of protein-rich foods. You can follow a vegan diet and still enjoy quality protein – you just might need to eat more of them since plant-based sources aren’t as protein dense per serving.
Here are some good plant-based protein sources if you follow a vegan diet:
- Beans of all types, including black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas. Dried beans are versatile, and canned beans are convenient. Both are nutritious and good sources of protein.
- Lentils, which are quicker to prepare than dried beans and go great in soups, on salads or mashed into burgers.
- Quinoa, which has a texture similar to a grain food but is a rich source of protein. Prepare it the same way as rice.
- Soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame. Tofu is like a blank canvas and can soak up flavors of what you cook it with. Tempeh has a meatier texture and is a great meat substitute. Edamame are soybeans that are delicious straight from the pod.
- Nuts and nut butters of all types, including peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Choose unsalted or less salt if sodium is a concern.
Vegetarians, or people who eat dairy and eggs, but no meat, can enjoy all of the above protein foods, plus:
- Eggs, which are an excellent source of protein and are low in saturated fat.
- Milk and yogurt, which can be enjoyed on their own or used in recipes to add flavor and nutrition. Note that many non-dairy milk substitutes do not deliver as much protein as dairy, so be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label.
- Cheese, including cottage cheese which has less saturated fat than hard cheese but all of the protein.
Fish and Meat-eaters have the most protein options, including:
- Beef, like steak and ground beef, which also are a great source of iron.
- Chicken and other sources of poultry. If your diet requires limiting saturated fat, white meat cuts are terrific.
- Pork, another lean meat option if you choose loin or chops. Bacon, however, is just fat!
- Fish, which provides omega-3 fats and vitamin D, nutrients that can be hard to come by in other foods. For convenience try canned salmon, tuna, sardines or anchovies.
- Game meats, like buffalo, venison and ostrich count toward your protein intake, too.
Pair Proteins for a Powerful Punch
Get the most of out your meals – and get closer to your daily goals – when you pair two proteins together. For example, a sesame-crusted seared salmon with an edamame and corn salad combines fish with soy products. Or, if you don’t eat meat, consider a grain bowl made with quinoa, black beans and shredded cheese. If you follow a vegan diet, skip the cheese and use crumbled tempeh.
Whatever tastes and textures suit you, find what you like, and you’ll reach your daily protein needs in no time!