How much Protein do you need?
My Food4Osteoporosis Eating Plan includes 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. I’ve been asked about this amount of protein so I thought it would be good to review protein needs. In the US, the general guideline for protein is .8 grams per kilogram body weight (or multiply your weight by .36). This long standing protein recommendation is based on the general population and not on aging individuals concerned about their bones and maintaining muscle mass.
Some research over the past few years is finding that the general population protein requirements are probably too low for the aging population and that older individuals should strive for 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. This is often not met, especially at breakfast. I have attended several continuing education activities in the last few years outlining this research and so I felt it was important to set up my Eating plan with the newer guidelines.
The higher protein requirement is not just for bones but for muscle strength as well. Avoiding falls is crucial with osteoporosis. Fending off muscle breakdown as we age is important in helping us maintain good balance and thereby decreasing our chance of falls. Some research is showing less muscle loss with the higher protein levels. One study found that the women with a daily protein intake greater than 70 grams had a significantly decreased risk of frailty.
Protein is essential to healthy bones, however when animal protein is eaten it should be in moderate amounts and balanced out with a generous intake of fruits and vegetables. I consider a 3 to 4 ounce serving of animal protein to be moderate and this provides 20 to 30 grams of protein. Vegetarian meals can also meet protein requirements but may require a little more planning to hit the 25 to 30 gram goal. Adding nuts and seeds is a great way to boost protein. My favorite is pumpkin seeds, which can go on salads and mixed into vegetarian entrees.
It is important to spread protein intake out during the day and not to eat the bulk of your protein at one or two meals. Muscles need a steady supply of protein all day and in general most people can’t absorb more than 25 to 30 grams of protein at one time. You also need to consume adequate calories from carbohydrates and healthy fats so that protein is available for optimal utilization by the body.
If you only eat cereal, milk and fruit for breakfast then you probably need to add some protein at breakfast to reach 25 grams. This can usually be accomplished by adding an egg (or egg whites), cottage or ricotta cheese, peanut butter or almond butter, nuts, seeds, yogurt or lean meat.
More research is needed to better understand the protein needs of the elderly and the optimal level for bone health.
Anyone with conditions that specifically restrict protein, like kidney disease, require a customized diet that may not allow these levels of protein.
Photo "Used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics."