Most of you have probably heard the word protein. You possibly associate it with body builders, athletes and gym bunnies trying to gain muscle. What you may not be aware of is that protein is essential for everyone and we are becoming more aware of how important it is as we age.
Protein is a key nutrient that makes up and/or is involved in a wide range of functions –think muscle mass maintenance/growth, hormones, outer membranes of cells, enzymes and antibodies for our immune system.
There has been research showing that after the age of 50 muscle loss increases and it also becomes harder for our bodies to make more muscle! Not a great combination.
This little situation does matter too, as good muscle mass can help maintain strength and mobility. Good strength and mobility can mean greater independence for the person, and potentially reduces the risk of falls and fractures. A good protein intake also ensures that all those functions described above can work optimally.
It is not all doom and gloom however, with good quality protein sources and resistance exercise, those over 50 can help minimise this issue. There is limited research into exactly the amount needed for each age group, but there is plenty of experts that believe that 1-1.2g/kg body weight/day is a good place to aim for *. Current recommendations are for a minimum of 0.8g/kg body weight/day.
So what is good quality protein?
Animal meats provide you with the most protein per typical serve of food, and are also high in leucine which has been shown to trigger muscle synthesis if you reach a level high enough.
Your next best sources of protein per typical serves are things like:
Ideally a combination of foods should be eaten to get a whole host of nutrients as well as protein.
What do we do about it?
While most adults in NZ do not struggle to get in enough protein, as per the 2008/2009 national nutrition survey, in practice I found a lot of our older population were not meeting their protein needs (particularly those with illness). There would often be a reduction in their protein foods choices; I think most often because they can be a bit more time consuming to cook, and also cost. It would not be unusual to have breakfast of being a piece of marmalade on toast with a cup of tea, a cup of vegetable soup at lunch with a slice of bread, and then maybe a small frozen piece of fish with some vegetables at dinner.
If you are older or have older loved ones, I encourage you to make sure that you/they are having regular high protein sources in the diet everyday and encourage some resistance exercise a few times a week for an optimal muscle profile.
Also don’t think because you are younger that you are off the hook either – if you are not getting good sources of protein and not doing regular resistance exercise then you are potentially losing overall muscle mass too and not setting yourself up well for your future older adult self.
*If you have any kidney impairment, I would ensure that you talk to your doctor or dietitian before increasing protein intake, as too much protein could compromise your kidney function.
There is no need to panic about healthy eating come Christmas day. Believe it or not, these two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.
I am all about enjoying the food we eat, and so should you. There is nothing worse than feeling completely guilty at the end of a delicious meal with your loved ones to ruin a day.
So how can we be both healthy, but not feel deprived....
Remember it is just ONE day and our health is not determined by a single day.
Merry Christmas :)
How many of you listen to your bodies hunger cues and stop eating when you are full? Or don't start eating until you feel hungry?
This is a skill that as healthy adults we are not always good at implementing. There are lots of reasons why we don't, but I think a major one is that we eat not only for fuel, but for taste, enjoyment and emotion. Which of course is not always a bad thing, but we need to make sure we are getting the balance right.
Young children are much more in tune with eating for their hunger levels. If you have spent time with them you will notice how some days they may eat much less or much more than usual. They will happily leave food on their plate, yet they are growing and developing. They are listening to their bodies, fuelling themselves with amounts of food they need for that point in time.
This is my nephews plate from lunch yesterday, not much left, but some. He had gone from regularly putting it into his mouth to eat, to just playing with his food and being interested in other things around him - indicating he was done. As an adult, if that was your plate, how many of us would just eat that little bit left on the plate thinking "I'm full, but there is not much left on the plate so i'll eat it anyway" Or as a parent, eat that leftover of the childs plate for no other reason but to finish it.
If you think you are someone who does not eat to their hunger cues well then I encourage you to practice it.....you don't get good at anything overnight....you need to practice and most likely fail at it a few times before you get it right.
✔️ Take a moment before eating and think about how you feel - are you actually hungry? or are you about to eat for another reason?
✔️ Reassess that feeling through the meal
✔️ Slow down with your eating you so you can allow your body to realise it is getting fed. It is a complex system and can take 20mins for the feedback loop to get back to your brain.
✔️ Stop eating when you feel just comfortable (ie hunger cues are gone)
✔️ If you are going through the motions of eating and not enjoying/tasting your food; if you are feeling quite full in the stomach area; if you feel sluggish, you have passed the point of comfortably being full and eaten too much.
Don't feel compelled to continue eating if you have not finished your plate, put it away for later/another meal. If you are regularly not finishing your plate, then you need to reassess how much you are putting on your plate in the first instance.
Go on, give it a go 😀