A high protein intake is important for everyone, but it is especially critical for elderly people. Studies have shown that as your body ages, you begin to digest protein less efficiently, which means the daily protein requirement for seniors is higher in order to maintain the same health and strength of a younger person.
How much protein do older people need?
Seniors need at least half a gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight, according to Protein Requirements and Recommendations for Older People. For example, a 120 lb 80 year old woman should try to get a minimum of 60 gram from protein in her diet every day. Since chewing can become difficult for seniors, and appetite often lessens with age, it’s challenging to get this much protein from whole foods like meat or cheese. You’d have to eat about three chicken drumsticks a day to get 60 grams of protein, which is out of the question for an older person who’s on a soft food meal plan, perhaps because of tooth loss or other issues. This is where liquid nutritional supplements like protein shakes become lifesavers!
Protein isn’t just for bodybuilders; modern protein shakes are perfect for anyone who needs a little extra help supplementing their food. Hypoallergenic, high quality protein sources make the best protein powders to add to a senior’s meal plan. The following brands are great choices; more detailed information is available after the chart.
|Pure Vegan IntestiCleanse Chocolate Protein Powder||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|NutraBio 100% Whey Protein Isolate||No||No||No|
|Paleo Protein Egg White Powder||Yes||No||No|
|Pea Protein Isolate - Vegan, Non-GMO, Lactose, Soy and Gluten Free||Yes||Yes||No|
Why do elderly people need protein?
For seniors, eating plenty of protein is critical for muscle retention and bone strength, but also for the health of your hair, skin, and even your brain! The amino acids contained in protein form the building blocks of all the tissue in your entire body, so when you don’t get enough protein in your diet, there are bad effects all over, including easy bruising to your skin, hair loss, slow wound healing, increased fatigue, and even loss of appetite.
A shake made from whey protein powder is the most common type of protein drink. You probably drink whey everyday in its un-separated form in milk. When milk is made into cheese, the curds and whey are separated from each other. Manufacturers save the whey from cheese production because it is actually one of the best, highest protein ingredients available. Whey is a good source of protein for seniors, partly because of its unusually high leucine content. Leucine, an amino acid found in protein, is especially important for muscle retention in older adults. More detailed information is available in the following study: “Greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis with ingestion of whey protein isolate v. micellar casein at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men.”
Unfortunately, whey isn’t an option for everyone, whether because of lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy. Protein powders made from other ingredients, such as peas, eggs, or hemp, all make good alternatives to whey. Pea protein and hemp protein are both hypoallergenic, which makes them a very safe choice for elderly people with sensitive immune systems.
Probiotics can help older people digest protein
All human beings have colonies of bacteria in our digestive systems. This sounds pretty bad, but in reality these little microbes are essential for a healthy digestive system. Unlike harmful bacteria that cause sickness, probiotic bacteria are meant to be in your stomach. Foods, including protein, cannot be properly digested and used by your body unless you have healthy gut bacteria. If you’re having a hard time digesting a protein shake without feeling a bit ill (or worse) you might want to look into probiotics. One of the simplest and most effective ways to add probiotics to your diet is to eat some sauerkraut or kimchi every day. (Note: be sure it’s unpasteurized as the pasteurization process kills nearly all probiotic content.)
Protein is essential, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle
It’s important to keep in mind that protein won’t solve all our problems, important as it is. Older people need exercise, hydration, and sleep as well, to keep themselves strong and healthy. Protein can help keep muscles strong, but we need to exercise those muscles too! A healthy, balanced diet is very important as well, since protein is not the only nutrient we need to get. It’s just as important to eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and sources of good dietary fat, like fish, grass-fed meat, or even avocados. That being said, a good protein drink can be a godsend for a chewing-impaired elderly person!
We wrote this article hoping to make a real difference in the lives of seniors trying to avoid muscle wasting and other nasty health problems that come with low protein intake. If this helps just one elderly person out there, then we’ve succeeded!