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All about Protein
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Madison Fishler

Written by Madison Fishler, MPH. Madison is a dietetic intern at University of Michigan School of Public Health currently interning at Carolina Meadows.

All about Protein

Protein is an important part of our diet especially as we age. It is crucial to eat protein-rich foods in order to maintain muscle, strength and overall health. These functions can contribute to one’s capacity to stay independent and have a good quality of life. Studies have shown that our ability to use low amounts of dietary protein decreases as we age. Therefore, elderly adults need to consume higher levels of protein in order to support muscle maintenance and daily activities.

Below are some statements that are either facts (true) or fiction (false). Read the statement and try to guess if it is fact or fiction before looking at the answer!

 

Fact or Fiction? Protein results in bone loss and puts a strain on the kidneys.

Fiction…with a caveat. Research has shown that for the most part, higher protein consumption is safe and actually has more benefits to bone and muscle health than risks. Many additional factors contribute to bone loss so it is important to also be consuming enough of our vitamins and minerals that promote bone health: calcium and vitamin D.

The caveat: Individuals who already suffer from some type of kidney function impairment, a higher protein diet would not be safe or beneficial.

Fact or Fiction? Elderly adults can lose anywhere from 0.5% – 2% of total muscle mass each year starting at age 50 in a process known as sarcopenia.

Fact. If individuals are pairing inactivity with low protein intake – muscle loss with age is inevitable. Research from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston shows that if people are inactive, muscle loss can actually begin in early middle age. However, there is a bright side! With strength exercises and consuming high quality proteins, individuals can prevent this muscle loss.

But what are high quality proteins?

High quality proteins are also known as “complete proteins” meaning that they have all nine essential amino acids. They are also easily digested by our bodies to be used for energy. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Below are some examples of high quality protein foods.

  • Meats: Animal sources of protein are almost always considered high quality. Some examples include poultry, eggs, and red meat. Reach for lean cuts of meat most often.
  • Seafood: Fish and shellfish are great sources of high quality protein that are usually lean. Some examples of commonly eaten seafood include tuna, salmon, whitefish, halibut, flounder, shrimp and scallops.
  • Dairy products: These products not only provide protein but they provide calcium and vitamin D as well which promotes bone health. Examples include low-fat cheeses, milk, and yogurt. If you cannot tolerate dairy products, choose fortified non-dairy products that provide similar vitamins and minerals to dairy products.
  • Soy: While most vegetable sources of protein are not classified as high quality, soy is a complete and high quality protein. Soy products include tofu, edamame, soymilk and soy yogurt.
  • Quinoa: This grain is another plant-based, high quality protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Try swapping in quinoa as your starch item at any meal. 
Fact or Fiction? Resistance and strength exercises are dangerous

Fiction. Resistance and strength exercises can be dangerous. However, if these exercises are done properly with supervision, these movements offer many benefits for our bodies and minds. Some of the benefits of resistance training could include improved muscle strength, mobility and balance, weight management, reductions in cognitive decline, and enhancements in performance of everyday tasks. Individuals who are in wheelchairs or have other physical disabilities can also participate in strength and resistance type training with proper guidance. Reach out to the Wellness department at Carolina Meadows or check out their fitness page for more information. 

Fact or Fiction? Some evidence suggests that everyone (no matter what age) should be aiming to have 25-30 grams of protein with every meal. Reach out to your dietitian to learn what your protein needs are.

Fact. This amount of protein at each meal is a good goal to have for most individuals. Having 25-30 grams of protein at each meal promotes muscle maintenance and strength in addition to helping you stay energized, full and satisfied from the meal. Some tips that may help you to reach this goal are to aim for ¼ of you plate to be a protein rich food and to eat this protein rich food first during your meal when you are the hungriest. Some examples of protein rich foods that are 25-30 grams of protein includes 3-4 ounces of chicken breast, a 4 ounce hamburger patty, 6 ounces of steak, 4 ounces of shrimp, 4-5 ounces of salmon, and 1 cup of soybeans. Note that other foods on your plate will likely have protein, not just your protein rich food. If you aim to have whole grains, a protein rich food, vegetables and a dairy item at each meal, you will easily reach this goal.

Fact or Fiction? Vegetarians and vegans cannot get enough protein to meet their needs

Fiction. While most believe that this statement is true, there are plenty of vegetarian and plant-based sources of proteins for these individuals to get enough to maintain muscle and strength. While there are many options available, it might take more planning and meal preparation to ensure that their nutritional needs are met. As mentioned above, soy and quinoa are both high quality protein options that are also vegan – plant based eaters can easily include these foods at meals to boost protein intake. Additionally, eggs are a high quality protein that vegetarians can incorporate into their diets. Some other examples of plant-based proteins include tofu, soymilk, soy yogurt, lentils, beans, oatmeal, nuts and seeds. Lastly, plant-based protein options are not just for vegans and vegetarians – they are for every type of eater! Plant-based proteins can and should be included regularly into everyone’s diet to promote health and decrease one’s environmental footprint.

Want some recipes that include protein? Here are 22 Healthy High-Protein Recipes.

When hunger strikes between meals – aim to have a protein-rich snack to keep you energized and satisfied until your next meal. Here are some simple protein-packed snack ideas:

  • ½ cup of Greek yogurt with berries, trail mix and/or granola
  • 1 apple with 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of raw vegetables with Greek yogurt dip (Greek yogurt mixed with herbs or seasonings and lemon juice)
  • ½ – 1 cup of shelled edamame (soybeans)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs and whole wheat crackers
  • 2 tablespoons – ¼ cup of hummus with raw vegetables or whole wheat crackers
  • 2 ounces of turkey or ham with whole wheat crackers
  • ½ – 1 cup of lentil salad: lentils, chopped veggies and a balsamic vinaigrette
  • ½ can of tuna with 1 tablespoon of mayo or ¼ of an avocado and whole wheat crackers
  • ½ cup cottage cheese with berries and/or granola

Interested in learning what your protein needs are? Contact Carolina Meadows’ registered dietitian, Jillian Schoening, MS, RD, LDN at 919-370-7187 or jschoening@carolinameadows.net.

References:

Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR (2016). Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?. Nutrients. 8(6), 359. doi:10.3390/nu8060359 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924200/

Bernstein, M. & Munoz, N. (2012). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food and Nutrition for Older Adults: Promoting Health and Wellness. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 112(8), 1255-1277.  https://jandonline.org/article/s2212-2672(12)00749-6/fulltext

Christ, A. (N.d.) Here’s What 30 Grams of Protein Looks Like. The Source by Life Time. Retrieved from https://thesource.lifetime.life/nutrition/heres-what-30-grams-of-protein-looks-like/

Elliott, B. (2020). 30 High Protein Snacks That Are Healthy and Portable. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthy-high-protein-snacks#6.-Tuna

Fitness Australia. (N.d.). Resistance training – health benefits. Better Health Channel. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits

Webb, D. (2015). Protein for Fitness: Age Demands Greater Protein Needs. Today’s Dietitian. 17(4), 16. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/040715p16.shtml

Willow Physical Therapy Staff. (N.d.). High Quality Protein: What is it and why is it important? Retrieved from https://willowpt.com/high-quality-protein/#:~:text=High%2Dquality%20protein%20is%20also,a%20nutritional%20protein%2Dbased%20meal.

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