Typically, most of us associate protein and a high protein diet with athletes and
bodybuilders. A common misconception as protein is one of the foundational building
blocks of our bodies. We all need it for muscle growth and repair, and beyond that,
for cell growth in hair, nails and internal organs, keeping fluid levels balanced in the
body, healing from injury, balancing hormones and enzymes, and maintaining
healthy vision. In other words, to remain in good health.
For older adults, protein is essential to helping them remain active, agile, and able to
have a fairly good quality of life. However, as we age, our bodies do not use protein
as well as it should, leading to loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Seniors
can avert this by increasing their protein intake, along with exercise.
So how much protein do elderly adults need?
The general recommendation is that 10 – 30 percent of calories should come from
protein. That said, recent studies show that seniors could need as much as 70 – 90
grams of protein a day, regardless of their calorie intake to meet their daily needs.
Ideally, this protein consumption should be spread out through the day rather than
lumping it all into one meal. It is recommended that every meal have a healthy
source of protein in it. Even better is to try to get a third of the day’s protein
requirement with each of the three main meals.
Where can they get this protein from?
Protein can be found in animal and plant sources. The body breaks this protein down
into amino acids or uses it to make the amino acids that are necessary to build,
repair, and maintain it.
Great plant sources of protein are soy (including edamame, tofu and tempeh) and
quinoa, which are considered complete. Other excellent sources of protein that are
fairly easy to incorporate into meals include lentils, chickpeas, beans and whole
How can older adults incorporate protein into their meals?
Here are a few ideas.
● Cereal topped with nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, hemp seed, pumpkin
seeds, and sunflower seeds.
● Bread or toast with a nut butter such as peanut butter, cashew butter, or
almond butter, ideally one that doesn’t have sugar added to it.
● A protein shake made with a plant-based protein powder such as Origin
Nutrition, which comes in several flavours, can be a tasty and easy way to
meet part of the day’s protein requirement.
● A high protein ‘superfood’ salad that incorporates nuts and seeds, and maybe
even a bit of protein powder sprinkled onto it, can be quite filling and help to
meet that meal’s protein requirement.
● Rice topped with lentils or soy chunks and veggies, or a vegetable biryani or
pulao that’s heavy on the veggies and restricts the carbs makes for a tasty
and filling meal.
● For seniors who struggle with textures, a high protein stew or soup made with
veggies and lentils that have been cooked and pureed can be a great idea.
● A chickpea falafel is a simple and easy way to pack in the protein.
● A veggie and tofu stir fry, eaten as is or with some sort of bread can make for
a wholesome meal too.
● A hearty five bean soup or chili can also give seniors the protein and fiber that
they need without piling on the fat.
● Dals, which are a staple in most of our households, are also a great source of
The bottomline is that as we get older, our bodies become less efficient at storing
and using protein. Appetites change and often diminish too. However, with a
carefully balanced diet, and perhaps, smaller meals more frequently, elderly adults
can meet their caloric and protein requirements with ease.