Protein and its Importance in Healthy Aging

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Yes, proteins are the building blocks of your body. Proteins and their components, amino acids, repair and build bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood and teeth. They are also vital to the production of enzymes and hormones. This process starts in the womb, peaks shortly after puberty, but continues throughout your lifetime.

Protein is one of three vital nutrients that we need for optimal health. Regardless of what you eat, all foods are broken down into one of three major nutrients, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Proteins are then broken down (digested) into the amino acids that form proteins which are then transported across the body’s various membranes and throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Protein and Aging

At each stage of life, nutrient needs increase or decrease based on growth and activity levels. At or near the age of 40 the metabolism begins to slow down and it becomes necessary to adjust your intake of calories or face weight gain, even if you maintain an active lifestyle. While fewer calories are required at this stage, your body still needs protein to maintain and repair healthy bones, teeth and tissues.

Calorie requirements continue to decrease as you continue to age. By age sixty, many adults need only 60% of the number of calories they needed at age 20. This does not mean that you need less nutrition, only fewer calories. Your needs for specific nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein actually increase in later years, especially in post menopausal women. Protein and calcium are needed to offset bone density loss and prevent muscle wasting. Adequate nutrition, including protein intake, makes it possible to remain active and energetic until the end of life.

Protein Needs of Older Adults

There are many reasons that older adults may not get enough protein, including:

  • Fixed income and a lack of funds for healthy, high protein food.
  • An inability to travel to and from the grocer.
  • Improperly fitting, painful dentures.
  • Physical conditions which may block protein absorption.
  • Depression or similar psychological conditions that can affect appetite.
  • Dementia which may interfere with desire or ability to eat.

Any of these reasons, or a combination of these reasons can cause an older adult to stop eating meat or dairy, the two most common and available sources of protein.

Healthy aging can best be supported by a weight friendly, low calorie, high protein diet that promotes bone health and muscle strength. Muscle wasting (age related muscle loss) and bone deterioration are two major health concerns for aging people. Protein can help you maintain strong muscles and bones throughout the aging process.

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