It’s easy to think that, after childhood, we all need the same nutrition. Kids need special diets, and people with specific exercise routines need personalized diets, but the rest of us assume we should just eat the same way we’ve been eating for years after hitting a certain age. But, daily recommended intakes don’t properly account for aging and our changing needs.
Older people don’t process protein as well as younger people. Couple that the muscle loss associated with low levels of protein in the diet, and you have problems. When we are sick, under stress or losing weight, we need to eat more protein to be healthy. As we get older, we tend to become more sedentary, which can lower muscle mass, slow healing and impact our ability to move. All of these problems have an adverse impact on overall health.
Multiple studies have found that a higher intake of protein seemed to help people. A study with almost 3,000 people over 23 years showed that people who ate the most protein were 30 percent less likely to become physically impaired than the people who ate the least. Of course, people who eat less protein may have other lifestyle problems. Dental health, swallowing difficulties and limited finances can all impact one’s protein intake and could also be linked to less favorable results. A different study, looking at 2,000 older people over six years found that people who ate little protein were twice as likely to struggle with walking or going upstairs.
“While eating an adequate amount of protein is not going to prevent age-associated loss of muscle altogether, not eating enough protein can be an exacerbating factor that causes older adults to lose muscle faster,” said Prof. Wayne Campbell, of Purdue Univ.
While most guidelines say adults should eat 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. However, this research suggests older people should eat 1-1.5 grams per kilogram depending on their health. The less healthy a person is, the more protein they should eat. Also, after any form of surgery or injury, a higher protein diet is good.
You should always speak to a doctor before changing your diet. A high protein diet, while advisable for many, does not suit everyone. If you have kidney problems, it might be inadvisable for you to increase your protein intake because of your specific needs. Talk to your doctor about how much protein you should be eating, and what source is right for you — dairy, meat or plant-based.