Aim for this magic number…from a variety of sources
Protein is an essential macronutrient.
Getting enough in your daily diet is critical for nearly every bodily function—from building strong muscles and bones to supporting digestion and more.
Plus, the older you get, the more important protein becomes—for your overall health and your quality of life.
Research shows that as you age, you naturally lose muscle mass, strength, and function. As a result, you may also lose mobility, hindering your independence.
In fact, reduced muscle strength and function can affect your gait (walking pattern). And, as I’ve written before, gait is the No. 1 predictor of longevity.
The good news is, you can counteract age-related muscle problems by eating enough protein.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But research shows that a whopping 41 percent of adult women and 38 percent of adult men DON’T consume the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein—and, consequently, their health suffers.1
Not to mention, as we all know, RDAs are usually woefully low. Meaning many older adults don’t even come CLOSE to consuming enough daily protein.
It takes 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal to keep your body healthy, muscles strong, and your metabolism going.
Not only that, but a new study shows it’s important to enjoy various sources of protein for optimum health (and optimum blood pressure levels).
So, let’s take a closer look at this new research. Then, I’ll tell you about some of the best sources of protein—and how many grams each provides to ensure you’re getting enough.
Lower protein equals higher blood pressure?
First, let’s talk about how protein may affect your blood pressure readings…
From 1997 to 2015, researchers in China gathered nutrition data from nearly 12,200 adults.2 The researchers looked at what types of proteins the participants ate and how that influenced their blood pressures.
The researchers identified eight different types of protein:
- Grains (both whole and refined)
- Red meat (both processed and unprocessed)
They gave each type of protein a score. Then, they added up each study participant’s daily score.
Results showed that the people with higher protein scores (meaning they ate a variety of proteins) had better nutritional status—as expected.
But the researchers also found that the people who consumed at least four protein sources a day had an impressive 66 percent lower chance of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) compared to those who consumed two or fewer sources.
Why? Because not all proteins are created equal—at least, not in terms of how the body uses them.
Proteins contain amino acids, which are vital for many body and brain functions—including blood pressure regulation.
But not all proteins contain every type of amino acid. This is especially true of plant proteins, which are referred to as “incomplete” proteins because they don’t contain as many amino acids as animal proteins do.
So, to ensure you get a full range of amino acids and reap full-body benefits, it’s important to diversify your protein sources.
Eggs and meat belly up to the table
Now, I do have reservations about one of the proteins the researchers included in their “protein score.” Specifically, refined grains.
There’s plenty of research showing these highly processed grains can have negative impacts on health. And I’ve concluded that the protein they supply is simply not enough to counteract those negative effects.
Plus, you don’t need refined grains when there are so many other good sources of protein readily available.
Another interesting and important aspect of the study was the inclusion of eggs and meat.
As you know, for many years, the U.S. government recommended eliminating eggs and meat from your diet to help reduce risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Of course, they were all wrong, all along. Now, finally, eggs have been miraculously rehabilitated as a healthy food.
In fact, a 2018 study of nearly 500,000 adults showed that people who routinely ate eggs had a lower risk of deaths from heart disease and strokes compared to those who didn’t eat eggs.3
Unfortunately, the same rehabilitation hasn’t been applied to meat. It continues to be demonized—especially processed red meat.
But the new Chinese study (and others) show that red meat is not the problem it’s been made out to be for heart health and blood pressure. Especially when it’s included as part of a balanced diet that contains different sources of protein.
In fact, quite the opposite!
Eight high-protein foods to add to your diet today
The bottom line is that a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients—like protein—is vital for health.
And when it comes to protein, I’d like to let you in on a little secret: Calculating your daily “score” CAN be fun—and delicious. (Plus, you probably already enjoy many of these sources as part of the healthy Mediterranean diet.)
Here are eight healthy foods to up your intake. (Bonus: They also provide a whole host of other important nutrients!)
Grass-fed and -finished meat (including organic poultry and lamb). These options contain around 8 grams of protein per ounce. Plus, they provide you with healthy fats and bioavailable minerals, such as iron and calcium. Meat is also a rich source of B vitamins, vitamins D and E, and amino acids.
My go-to option: A rack of lamb with homemade chimichurri sauce. Remember, lamb has the best nutritional profile of all meats. And for a homemade chimichurri recipe, refer to last month’s newsletter.
Eggs. Organic eggs contain 6 grams of protein each. And I consider them to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re great sources of essential minerals (like selenium), healthy fats, and complete proteins.
My go-to option: Huevos rancheros! This tasty dish features fried eggs (in grass-fed butter) on fresh, organic corn tortillas, topped with salsa, beans/legumes, avocado, cheese, and more. (Tip: Spice up your salsa with fresh ingredients. I make mine with organic tomatoes, red onion, and a finely diced hot pepper—mixed with cilantro and lime juice.)
Cheese. Full-fat cheese (preferably organic) is a good source of protein, essential fats, calcium, B vitamins, phosphorus, and zinc.
My go-to option: Slices of cheddar, provolone, or mozzarella cheese provide 7 to 8 grams of protein each. You can make this healthy snack even more nutritious (and delicious) by enjoying a fresh charcuterie board full of smoked meats, cheeses, berries, and olives. Or—if you’re in the mood for some comfort food, pair your favorite cheeses together to make a hearty grilled cheese sandwich. (You can find my go-to recipe for this in the January 2022 newsletter.)
Fish. Wild-caught fish and seafood provides ample protein (between 6 to 8 grams per ounce). It’s also an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B and D, calcium, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
My go-to option: I like to opt for fresh, wild-caught fish and seafood—especially during this time of year. In fact, I try to eat seafood several times a week. Even better? You can prepare seafood and fish lots of different ways—baked, grilled, steamed, and more.
One of my favorite recipes combines high-protein options to make a delicious New England seafood boil: shrimp (24 grams), lobster (28 grams), and clams (12 grams)
Lentils. Along with beans, lentils are an extremely healthy legume. Not only do they contain 18 grams of protein per cup, but they’re also loaded with fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
My go-to option. Lentils and other cooked beans can be added to curries, salads, and soups. But I’ve recently become a fan of red lentil pasta.
Italians often add lentils and other legumes to their pasta for a protein and fiber boost. So, why not go straight to the source—and swap out unhealthy, white-flour pasta for healthy (and tasty) pasta made with red lentils? A 2-ounce serving of red lentil pasta has around 13 grams of protein—nearly double the amount in a serving of white flour pasta.
Nuts and seeds. These plant proteins are great sources of healthy fats and fiber—not to mention vitamin E, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium.
Different types of nuts and seeds contain different levels of protein. For example, a handful of walnuts offer around 12 grams of protein…and a cup of Brazil nuts serves up a whopping 19 grams. Meanwhile, two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about 5 grams of protein.
My go-to option: Several handfuls of mixed nuts daily (un-salted and not honey roasted). Especially almonds, pecans, and walnuts. You can even mix them with small amounts of dried fruits. This is actually one of my favorite snacks because it’s convenient—and highly satisfying. Leaving a bowl out on your counter takes up minimal space. And if you’re on the go, you can keep your handfuls in zip-lock bags to keep you from feeling hungry between meals.
Yogurt. All yogurt offers protein—but plain, Greek-style versions have an impressive 22 grams per cup. Plus, yogurt is packed with probiotics, calcium, and B vitamins.
My go-to option: Plain, organic Greek or Icelandic yogurt is a versatile way to add healthy protein to any meal. I enjoy it for breakfast nearly every day, together with fresh berries and/or nuts. In fact, since incorporating it into my daily routine, I’ve lost about 30 pounds (and four or five notches on my belt) without even thinking about it!
Optimize your diet, improve your health
As you can see, there are a lot of delicious ways to boost your protein intake…and your health.
Of course, one of the main reasons older adults don’t eat enough protein is because our appetite tends to shrink with age. And protein can fill you up fast.
But the foods I just discussed are a simple and often stealthy way to add protein to your diet—while still leaving plenty of stomach space for other healthy foods.
Remember, it’s important to aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal—or 75 to 90 grams daily—to stay strong and healthy well into your golden years…and beyond!
So, get creative. Start meal planning around the delicious protein sources I outlined here. Then, experiment with different varieties and flavors.
Who knows, you might just find a new favorite dish (or two or three)!
For added inspiration, search my archives for some of my favorite recipes. Like my classic New England seafood boil I mention above, turkey mole tacos, and more! You can also poke around the internet or family cookbooks for fresh ideas.
Cozzi Family Farm Market & Gifts
If you’re in the New England area or simply passing through, please consider stopping by this local farm co-op in picturesque Rockport, Massachusetts. My daughter and her husband offer a locally grown market. You can find fresh, free-range organic eggs and other foods, baked goods, homemade kitchenware, arts and crafts, and more. Details, directions, and updates are posted here: facebook.com/CozziFamilyFarmMarketandGifts/.
1“Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?” Nutrients. 2016;8(6):359.
2“Inverse Association Between Variety of Proteins With Appropriate Quantity From Different Food Sources and New-Onset Hypertension.” Hypertension. 2022 May;79(5):1017-1027.
3“Associations of egg consumption with cardiovascular disease in a cohort study of 0.5 million Chinese adults.” Heart. 2018;104:1756-1763.