Did you know that one in two older adults do not meet their protein requirements for their age in Singapore? This is despite the fact that most older adults tend to eat better quality meals than younger adults, and meet their recommended intake for wholegrains, fruits and vegetables.
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.
Here is how much protein you might need if you are:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
By using My Healthy Plate as a meal-planning guide, and doing a variety of physical activity, especially strengthening exercises at least 3 days a week, you could mitigate the loss of muscle mass, and increase your chances of staying physically mobile and independent as you age.
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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