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Why protein?

A healthy diet includes a balance of carbs, lean protein, and 'good' fats like olive oil. But one of those macronutrients - protein - is especially important for older adults.

Protein helps us maintain and even add muscle. That's crucial because we lose 30 to 50 percent of our muscle mass between ages 40 and 80. Getting sufficient protein can help reduce the resultant increase in fall risk. Protein also plays a role in creating hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters, which your body uses in many ways.

But how much protein is enough, and where should you get it? The answers to both questions become a bit more complicated as the years pass.

Close to half of older adults get less than the amount of protein suggested. The recommended amount is .36 grams per pound of body weight daily, or 54 grams for a 150 pound person.

But older adults who hit these recommendations may still have a protein shortfall. Although you might consume the same amount of protein you did in your younger years, your body might not be able to use it as well.

Older age-related factors that hike up protein needs include inflammation, injuries, chronic disease, or surgery. Some medications, like steroids may also ramp up protein needs.

Researchers caution that if you don't get enough in your diet, the body will pull it from your muscles. That can lead to further loss of muscle and strength.

Due to the factors above, research supports increasing the recommended intake of protein for older adults by up to 50 percent. That means people over age 65 should strive for 0.45 to 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily, or about 68 to 83 grams for a 150-pound person.

Your muscles prefer that you spread your protein out over the day. In fact, downing a large amount of protein at dinner, common in our diets, isn't the most efficient way to build muscle. So, depending on your weight, you'll want to aim for about 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.

Meat, poultry, seafood and diary provide protein, as we know. But you can also get plenty from plant sources such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains. A potential drawback to getting protein solely from plants is that you may have to eat a larger volume of food to get the amount of protein you would from animal sources. That can be difficult, especially for older adults who appetites may be less robust than they once were. Consider a plant-forward eating style, which doesn't preclude meat but relegates it to a lesser role. It's one that more and more people are embracing.

Beef and chicken breast - 3 oz - 24 grams of protein

Salmon - 3 oz - 23 grams

Tuna - 3.5 oz - 19 grams

Greek yogurt (plain, non fat) - 5.5 oz - 16 grams

Tofu - 1/2 cup - 10 grams

Beans - 1/2 cup - 9.5 grams

Lentils - 1/2 cup cooked - 9 grams

Quinoa - 1 cup - 8 grams

Whole -wheat pasta - 1 cup 8 grams

Almonds -raw - 1 oz - 6 grams

Buckwheat - 1 cup cooked - 6 grams

Egg - 6 grams

Hemp hearts - 3 tbsp - 10 grams

Dave's Killer Bread - one slice - 5 grams

Source: Should I eat this? Consumer Reports.

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