Helping Seniors Get Enough Protein in Their Diet

Protein is an important aspect of anyone’s diet, but with aging it can become challenging to consume enough. The elderly have different needs than the general population, and getting enough protein can help seniors stay independent. Protein helps prevent weight loss and skin breakdown, which can lead to pressure sores. Protein also helps to limit sarcopenia, which is the gradual loss of muscle that occurs as people age. Preserving muscle mass is important to prevent falls and continue to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).

How much protein do seniors need?

Protein needs for adults is generally 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. This increases in the elderly to anywhere from 1.0-1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight. To convert pounds to kilograms, divide the weight in pounds by 2.2. Keep in mind that certain chronic illnesses, such as chronic kidney disease, have different protein requirements.

Why is it hard to eat enough protein?

For some elderly people, it can be difficult to consume enough protein. Due to natural changes that occur with aging, taste preferences may change. It is common to want more sweet than savory foods, which can lead to a decrease in meat and protein intake. The elderly have more difficulty with food preparation and set up, which can lead to skipping meals. Also, changes in dentition can make chewing more difficult.

What are some ways to add protein to the diet?

While there are a wide variety of protein supplement drinks available, generally it is beneficial to consume food sources of protein over supplements. The following strategies can be used to help increase protein in the elderly:

  • Make a high-protein smoothie. Smoothies are great since they are easy to customize. Add a protein source such as milk, yogurt, or peanut butter with fruit and some greens for a protein- and vitamin- packed drink.
  • Alter the texture of meats. It may be difficult for some to chew tough cuts of meat such as steak or pork chops. Opt for ground meat, or tender cuts in a stew or soup. Adding extra sauce or gravy can also make it easier to chew.
  • Include between-meal snacks. If it is difficult to get large amounts of protein in during meals, include 2-3 high protein snacks throughout the day. Try foods like hard-boiled eggs, half of a sandwich, yogurt, cottage cheese, or a tuna packet.
  • Try vegetarian options. Plant-based protein sources such as tofu, lentils, and beans are versatile and are soft enough for people with chewing difficulties. Tofu is great in stir fry, while lentils and beans work well in soups, stews, and as a side dish.

Making sure seniors eat enough protein, in addition to a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated, is important for healthy aging. Dietitians at ProMedica Senior Care are experts in nutrition and can help answer questions about healthy diets. If your loved one is staying at a ProMedica Senior Care facility, speak with a dietitian to learn how they can help.