Health Advice



Nutrition News: Protein For Older Adults

Charlyn Fargo on

Protein For Older Adults

Can protein help you stay independent as you age?

Protein is known to slow the loss of muscle mass. Having enough muscle mass can help preserve the ability to perform daily activities and prevent disability. Older adults tend to have a lower protein intake than younger adults due to poorer health, reduced physical activity, changes in the mouth and teeth and changes in absorption.

Recently, a research team from the United Kingdom studied whether eating more protein could contribute to helping people maintain independence. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Researchers used data from the Newcastle 85+ Study conducted in the United Kingdom. This study's researchers approached all people turning 85 in 2006 in two cities in the U.K. for participation. At the beginning of the study in 2006-2007, there were 722 participants, 60% of whom were women. The participants provided researchers with information about what they ate every day, their body weight and height measurements, their overall health assessment (including any level of disability) and their medical records.

The researchers learned that 28% of older adults in North-East England had protein intakes below the recommended dietary allowance. The researchers noted that older adults who have more chronic health conditions may also have different protein requirements. Researchers examined the impact of protein intake on the increase of disability over five years.


The researchers' theory was that eating more protein would be associated with slower disability development in elderly adults, depending on their muscle mass and muscle strength. And their research backed that up. Participants who ate more protein at the beginning of the study were less likely to become disabled compared to people who ate less protein.

Dr. Nuno Mendonca, the principal author of the study, wrote in the Journal article, "Our findings support current thinking about increasing the recommended daily intake of protein to maintain active and healthy aging."

Older adults should aim to eat about 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. For example, for a person who weighs 160 pounds, that would be about 72 grams of protein per day. That compares with the current recommendation for adults (young and elderly) at 0.8 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight per day, or 58 grams of protein per day for a 160-pound person.

The bottom line is most adults get more than enough protein, but as you age, it may be beneficial to consume more protein to stay independent.


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