There are many sources of plant-based and animal-based proteins that you can include in your diet to meet your daily requirement

As you age, your body requires roughly 50% more protein than a younger adult to better preserve muscle mass and strength to maintain a certain quality of life. Having sufficient protein also helps to increase the body’s immune functions and reduce recovery time from illness.

By including enough protein in your diet, you will be able to slow the onset of sarcopenia, i.e the loss of muscle mass and function, and upkeep your everyday activities, such as walking, grocery-shopping, and meeting friends. The loss of muscle mass may start as early as at the age of 40. Loss in muscle mass increases the risk of falls and bone fractures which would impact your quality of life adversely, hence it is important for adults to take heed early.

How Much Protein do you Need?

Here is how much protein you might need if you are:

Age Range Protein required (in grams) Recommended protein intake3
50 years old and above About 1.2g per kilogram of body weight E.g. Older adult who weighs 62.5kg would need
62.5*1.2g protein = 75g protein per day or
75/3 = about 25g per meal
18 - 49 years old About 0.8g per kilogram of body weight E.g. Younger adult who weighs 75kg would need
75*0.8g protein = 60g protein per day or
60/3 = about 20g per meal
Some examples of 20-25g plant-based proteins
Cooked pulses such as lentils and beans are good sources of protein.
3/4 small cup ** of cooked pulses (peas, beans, lentils) (120g)
Tempeh is an excellent source of protein
4 pieces of tempeh (120g)
Tofu is a good plant-based protein for vegetarians and vegans.
2 small blocks of firm tofu (150g)
Edamame contain nutrient-rich health benefits
Small bowl of edamame (200g)
Some examples of 20-25g animal-based proteins
Eggs are rich in protein and nutrients that are beneficial for the body.
3 eggs (150g)
Drinking low-fat milk or soy milk provides crucial nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins and more.
2 glasses* of low-fat milk or soy milk (500ml)
Ensure that you consume 1 palm-sized protein in your diet.
1 Palm-sized lean meat, fish or poultry (90 – 100g)
Seafood such as prawns are good sources of protein.
5-6 medium prawns (90g)
Tuna is low in calories and fat, but extremely high in protein.
Half a can of canned tuna (100g)
If you are watching your weight consider substituting regular cheese with low-fat sliced cheese.
4 slices of low-fat sliced cheese (80g)
Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin B12.
2 pieces of canned sardines (150g)
All weights listed are for edible portions only.
* 250ml glass
** 250ml cup

Older adults who are 50 years old and above will need to consume an average of around 75g of protein in a day while adults aged below 50 would need a little less at an average of 60g of protein per day.

The timing of protein intake is important too. Studies4 have shown that insufficient protein intake per meal affects the optimum muscle protein synthesis, even if the total protein required for the day has been met. Therefore, instead of eating the daily protein requirement all in one meal, it is recommended for older adults to spread it evenly across 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) with about 25g of protein at each meal to stimulate muscle protein synthesis throughout the day.

Key Sources of Protein

Chicken, beef, pork, mutton and fish: these are some commonly known, animal-based proteins that you might be familiar with. However, plant-based proteins such as soy products (e.g. soymilk, tofu, tempeh), nuts, beans/legumes are good protein sources too, and they are packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin B and zinc. Dairy and bean products such as milk, tofu, and edamame are also high in calcium. Calcium is also important for seniors and older adults as it supports bone health and helps minimize the adverse effects of falls. With sufficient intake of protein and calcium in your diet, you could maintain muscle mass and slow the rate of bone loss, ensuring your quality of life remains the same.

Unless you are limited by dietary restrictions, it’s recommended that you include both kinds of protein in your diet for their mix of nutrients. Plant-based proteins are a good way of brightening your meals — and tasty options are aplenty.

Do avoid or limit intake of preserved or processed meats like luncheon meat and sausages, as they are low in protein and high in saturated fats and sodium. Eating processed meats could increase your risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer.

The same is true for fatty meats and lard, which are key sources of saturated fat. Too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up in your blood vessels and increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. If you must have deep-fried meats, limit your intake.

Where possible, opt for fresh meat, and choose leaner cuts in your meals. Think chicken breast, pork tenderloin, salmon fillet or lower sodium canned tuna or sardine.

How to Add More Protein to your Meals

It may seem challenging including more protein in your diet, but all that is required are small tweaks to your meals. In order to make better choices, make a note of some protein-rich sources of food. Think tofu, soy milk, eggs, and lean poultry and fish. Having enough protein should ideally be complemented by healthier meal choices, too. To guide your food choices, look out for the Healthier Choice identifiers when purchasing food from hawker centres or ingredients from the supermarket.

By adding or switching up certain foods each meal to include more protein-rich ones, it is easy to spread out your protein intake for a steady supply of protein for muscles to repair and/or build new cells and tissues throughout the day. 

Here are more examples of how to include more protein in your diet throughout the day, whether you’re eating out or cooking your own meals.

When eating out

If you’re eating out, there is a plethora of protein-rich options to choose from. Be sure to opt for dishes containing lean meat, poultry, or firm tofu.

  Instead of Opt for
Breakfast
● Plain Beehoon
A plate of beehoon, depending on the ingredients used can either be a good or bad meal option.
● Beehoon with egg and/or taukwa
Add an egg in your beehoon to make it more nutrient-rich meal.
Including tofu in your beehoon meal can increase your protein intake.
● Kaya-butter toast

kaya-butter toast is a common breakfast option for Singaporeans.
● Kaya-butter toast + 2 soft-boiled eggs
Eating eggs with kaya-butter toast will keep you fuller for longer.
  ● Plain chee cheong fun/steamed yam cake
Another popular breakfast item is chee chong fun.
● Peanut tofu porridge

Instead of having a plate of chee chong fun, opt for a peanut tofu porridge instead.
Lunch / Dinner ● Plain Fried noodles

Plain fried noodles might sound like a good lunch option, but it might not be a good option if you are watching your weight.
● Sliced fish noodles soup OR minced meat noodles/ban mian topped with egg.
Opt for sliced fish noodles for a more balanced diet.
● Fried Rice



Including vegetables in fried rice will increase your fibre intake.
● Economic rice with at least one fish, chicken, tofu or egg option OR Herbal chicken soup with brown rice
Brown rice or herbal chicken soup make good balanced meals.
 
● Plain Thosai/ Prata



Prata and thosai are common breakfast options.
● Egg Thosai / egg prata + one small bowl of dhal curry (remember to eat with the dhal, instead of just dipping the gravy)
Consume plain prata and thosai with dhal to make it a more nutritious meal.

When eating in

Having home-cooked meals is a good way of controlling what goes into your body. By making small changes to your diet, you will be able to increase your protein intake without skimping on taste.

  Instead of Opt for
Breakfast ● Toasted bread with butter/jam


Jam on toasted bread is a simple and nutritious breakfast option.

● Kopi/teh with condensed milk

Drinking kopi or teh with condensed milk can be unhealthy and high in calories.
● Wholegrain toasted bread with peanut butter spread + 2 soft-boiled eggs
Bread with peanut butter and eggs provides a balanced and well-rounded meal that will keep you full throughout the day.

● Kopi/teh with low-fat milk, or soymilk.
For a more healthier option, drink kopi or teh with low-fat milk.
Lunch/
Dinner
● Porridge with salted fish, preserved pickles

Porridge is sometimes eaten with salted fish or preserved pickles.
● Porridge with canned sardines/ braised peanuts /tofu OR break an egg and mix it into the porridge
Consume porridge with sardines, which are a good source of vitamin B12
● Vegetables curry
Eat vegetable curry with rice or another form of complex carbohydrate for a more balanced meal.
● Add in tempeh or taukwa
Throw in some tofu in your curry to get more out of your meal.
Tea-time / Snacks ● Plain crackers/steamed mantou


Eat plain crackers with coffee or as a low-calorie snack.
● Green or red bean soup; soybean curds

Green or red soup is healthy and filling.
Dinner ● Chicken curry cooked with coconut milk

Chicken curry cooked with coconut milk is higher in calories than curries that are not cooked with coconut milk.
● Replace coconut milk with low-fat milk/soymilk/yoghurt

Instead of coconut milk, use low-fat milk in curries for a healthy option.

Do Consider Your Personal Dietary and Health Needs

For older adults with oral issues or chewing difficulties, mix things up with a softer diet of tofu, eggs and fish. It’s also recommended that you seek the advice of a dental specialist or dietitian, who would be better primed to suggest the best ways to include protein in your meals. He/she may suggest complementing your diet with protein powder.

Have a problem with gout? It is commonly, and incorrectly thought that consuming too much protein causes gout. Actually, gout attacks are caused by a build-up of uric acids in the blood. When you consume and digest purine-rich foods such as seafood, liver and red meats, uric acids are produced. So instead, try some gout-friendly protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts, soy products, and dairy products such as yoghurt and milk instead.

If you have pre-existing kidney disease, be sure to also check with your doctor before increasing your protein intake.5 That’s because protein causes a build-up of by-products in those with kidney disease, and affects the kidney’s ability to remove waste.

For older adults who have any other specific health and diet concerns, or who may be on long-term medication, do consult your doctor or a dietitian to find out more on how to better adjust your meals to meet your specific dietary requirements.

A simple way to ensure you are eating enough protein as part of a balanced meal is to follow the My Healthy Plate (MHP) guide. Fill a quarter of your plate with protein-rich foods when you have your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other examples of protein-rich food & its protein content, which you can add to your meal to meet your daily protein needs can be found here.

With all that is said though, a well-balanced diet remains key. While protein encourages muscle growth and repair, the body also requires its primary source of energy — carbohydrates — to ensure your body continues functioning at optimum levels 6.

Use the My Healthy Plate guide for a more balanced and healthy diet.

By using My Healthy Plate as a meal-planning guide and putting in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, you could mitigate the loss of muscle mass, and increase your chances of staying physically mobile and independent as you age.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.


References

  1. Source: National Population Health Survey, 2019.
  2. Source: National Nutrition Survey, 2018. Diet recommendations defined as meeting 100% recommendation for sugar, salt, fruit, vegetables and 50% for unrefined carbohydrates.
  3. Based on the average weight of Singaporean adults from the National Population Health Survey in 2019,
    • Adults aged 50 & above: 59 kg for females and 71 kg for males
    • Adult aged 18-49: 61kg for females and 74kg for males
  4. Source: Paddon-Jones and Rasmussen 2009 Paddon-Jones D and Rasmussen BB (2009) Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 12(1): 86-90.
  5. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/protein-shakes-and-supplements-are-helpful-add-ons-some-should-never-replace-real-food-say
  6. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/brandstudio/healthyeating/5-things-you-did-not-know-about-proteins-10958622