Protein is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. The proteins we eat contain a variety of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids; 11 of the which are classified as non-essential because our bodies are able to synthesize them. The remaining 9 amino acids are classified as essential because our bodies are notable to synthesize them, and they have to be consumed through our diets. A complete protein is a food source that contains all 20 amino acids. Animal products, for example, are complete proteins.
Recommended Protein Intakes
For an average adult, the recommended daily intake of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. As we age, however, our bodies become at higher risk for decreased muscle mass. Increasing protein intake is one way to combat this outcome of aging. Recent findings suggest that older adults should consume anywhere from 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Different Types of Protein
When we hear the word ‘protein’, we often think of sources such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and eggs. While these are indeed good sources of protein, there are other plant-based protein foods that are a great addition to any diet.
In fact, a study published this year suggests that older adults who increase their plant-based protein intake are less susceptible to “unhealthy” aging. The researchers qualify unhealthy aging as a combination of decreased functionality, low self-rated well-being, impaired mental health, and compromised physical health (including existence of disease, poor vitals and unhealthy lab values). Over the course of 8 years, researchers found that replacing as little as 1% of energy intake from meat, poultry or dairy with plant-based proteins statistically improved the risk factors associated with unhealthy aging. There were no significant findings that protein from eggs or seafood have a negative effect on aging.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
Here are some ideas of plant-based protein foods that you can incorporate into your diet:
- Soy* (edamame, tofu)
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
*Soy and quinoa are complete protein sources, meaning they contain all 20 amino acids just like meat, dairy and other animal protein sources. Other plant-based proteins contain different combinations of amino acids, but not all 20.
While there is still more research to be done on the benefits of including more plant-based proteins into our diets, it will never hurt to try a new routine. Plant-based proteins can also be a great source of fiber and other vital nutrients for our bodies, which doesn’t hurt!
Ortolá, R., Struijk, E. A., García-Esquinas, E., Rodríguez-Artalejo, F., & Lopez-Garcia, E. (2019). Changes in dietary intake of animal and vegetable protein and unhealthy aging. The American Journal of Medicine. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.051
Villnies, Z. (2018). Top 15 plant-based sources of protein. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321474.php