Let’s Talk Protein!

We all have that friend with thick, shiny hair, long fingernails, toned muscles, and smooth skin. Bonus if they’ve never had a broken bone! So, maybe they work out every day and have a genetic disposition for their other fine traits. However, there’s a good chance they also eat healthy proteins every day. For seniors, incorporating healthy protein into your diet at least twice a day is particularly important.

According to WebMD, our bodies need protein on a regular basis because we cannot store protein, and therefore our body has no reservoir to draw on when it needs a new supply. We must be sure to choose “healthy” proteins and exercise regularly in order to help the protein make its way through to our muscles and other parts of our body that need it. It is even more imperative for seniors to maintain a protein-rich diet because, as we age, it becomes even harder for our bodies to build and retain muscle.

Here are a few protein facts and tips to help you make informed and healthy choices at each meal.

What does protein do for me?

  • Hair and nails are mostly made of protein.
  • Our bodies use protein to build and repair tissues, make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals.
  • Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.
  • Protein helps make neurotransmitters, which help you feel happy, sleep better, think clearly, and remember things.

How much protein should I eat each day?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that most women and some older adults need two daily servings of 2.5 oz. each, for a total of five ounces. Active women and most men need two daily servings of 3 oz. each, for a total of six ounces.

But moderation is key. High-protein diets, such as the Atkins Diet, or eating overly large amounts of animal protein, such as that delicious-looking 8 oz. steak staring back at you at the meat counter, is actually not good for you, according to nutrition experts.

Animal foods high in protein and processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages and deli meats, are also high in saturated fats, which increase the risk for many diseases and health issues that are already a high risk for seniors. These include heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer.

Evidence also suggests that people who eat high-protein diets excrete excess calcium in their urine, which could lead to osteoporosis down the road, another risk associated with aging.

So, now that you understand the benefits of protein and how much you should consume regularly, let’s talk about the best, and tastiest, sources of healthy protein.

What are some “good” proteins I should eat?

Nutrition experts recommend getting dietary protein from “healthy” sources, such as those listed below. Try chicken and vegetables on a whole-grain pizza for lunch or dinner. Mix nuts with dried fruit for a healthy afternoon pick-me-up. And choose from a wide variety of beans to add to chili, a Mexican breakfast wrap, and even salads.

  • Fish:Fish has less fat than meat and offers omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits. Depending on your taste, you can choose from mild, flaky white fish such as Cod, Flounder and Trout, to tender medium or medium-firm choices such as Catfish, Haddock, Orange Roughy, Snapper, and Tilapia. Firmer fish, such as Grouper, Halibut, Sole and Yellowtail Tuna, have the texture of chicken, and can be prepared in many delicious ways. This fish taste chart lists all sorts of fish, their texture and flavor, and even provides recipes for each type of fish.
  • Poultry:One of the most common and easiest-to-cook proteins is poultry, which typically refers to chicken and turkey. Although poultry can be a source of saturated fat, you can eliminate most of it by removing the skin. Try these 50 Healthy Chicken Breast Recipes from Cooking Light.
  • Beans:Beans contain more protein than any other vegetable protein. Plus, they’re loaded with fiber that helps you feel full for hours.com has some delicious and easy-to-make recipes that include beans.
  • Nuts:One ounce of almonds gives you six grams of protein, nearly as much protein as one ounce of broiled ribeye steak. Nuts have “healthy fat,” and are a great substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s page on nuts, which includes a great chart listing types of nuts, their calories and total (good) fat.
  • Whole grains:A slice of whole wheat bread gives you three grams of protein, plus valuable fiber. Find out which whole-grain breads consumers think taste best, at Good Housekeeping.

Consider carbohydrates.

Eating too much protein and not enough healthy carbs can bring on a host of health issues, including raised cholesterol levels and increases cardiovascular risk, according to the American Heart Association. These risks can increase for older adults, so finding a good protein-carb balance is key.

As you increase your protein intake, be sure to balance your meals with healthy carbs such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These are the best sources for important vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, particularly calcium, potassium and magnesium – all of which we need more of as we age in order to help prevent disease.

Ready to add some new proteins to your meals? Check out the recipe links we provided above and start exploring some fun, new protein options. Ask your chef for suggestions on incorporating healthy and tasty protein options into your meals that will fit your needs and satisfy your taste buds.