A new study found that older adults who eat more of one key nutrient are 41 percent less likely to depend on assistance in performing basic, everyday tasks — such as carrying groceries and getting up after sitting.
But older Americans clearly aren’t getting enough of this nutrient, which helps us maintain muscle mass as we age.
For one, the government warned us for decades to avoid wholesome foods that are rich in this nutrient — including eggs, full-fat dairy, meat, and even certain kinds of seafood. And guess what? Those recommendations were wrong. To make matters worse, the government’s recommended daily intake (RDI) for this nutrient is about half of what it should be.
Of course, I’m talking about protein.
And getting more of it as you age is a key approach to healthy aging. In my view, it’s one of the most important steps you can take to remain healthy, strong, and independent well into your golden years.
Protein linked to stronger physical performance
For this new study, researchers analyzed data from the famed Framingham Heart Study. Researchers observed the participants’ agility and dietary habits.
Specifically, they looked at the results of physical tests, measuring participants’ performance on two separate occasions, roughly 10 years apart.
The tests measured participant performance in seven key functional tasks, such as:
- Going up and down stairs
- Heavy work at home (like shoveling, or washing windows, walls, or floors)
- Kneeling and crouching
- Lifting moderately heavy items (like grocery bags, or a 10-lb sack of potatoes, or any items weighing around 10 pounds)
- Walking one-half mile
The participants also kept three-day diet records (which included protein intake) during two periods of observation.
As I mentioned earlier, the participants with higher protein intake were 41 percent less likely to become dependent in one of the functional tasks listed above as they aged. And the researchers claimed this association was “particularly evident” for women.
Plus, these kinds of functional tests are major indicators of overall health among older men and women. In fact, previous studies show that functional capacity — such as standing from a seated position and walking — is the single strongest predictor of longevity as you get older.
We also know that age-related muscle loss, associated with inadequate protein intake, causes a severe decline in leg strength, specifically. This decline in strength can lead to falls, restricted mobility, functional decline, and reduced life expectancy.
Indeed, research links injuries due to falling with disability and death among older patients. So, avoiding falls as you get older is key. (I’ll report on some more simple tips for avoiding falls in tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch.)
So, now, let’s turn to talk about how much daily protein you really need…
Protein recommendations by body weight
The current daily U.S. RDI for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. But international experts recommend 1.2 grams per kilogram per day for people ages 65 and older, and higher amounts for older adults who are more physically active. Plus, several studies clearly illustrate the value of getting more daily protein. For example:
- The Health, Aging and Body Composition (ABC) Study showed men and women with higher protein intake had 40 percent better muscle mass retention over three years.
- In a prospective study, older participants with even higher protein intakes (1.2 to 1.8 grams per kilogram daily) had significantly fewer health problems over a 10-year period.
- In the Women’s Health Initiative (which I helped initiate more than 30 years ago at the National Institutes of Health), women ages 65 to 79 with higher protein intakes also had lower risks of physical frailty during the following three years.
Remember, it’s very difficult to achieve your optimal protein intake if you follow an unbalanced diet that cuts out whole categories of healthful foods, such as dairy, eggs, fish, and meat.
Meanwhile, low-fat, high-carb diets are just a prescription for faster aging. (Any diet that is low-fat also tends to be low-protein, because the nutrient content of fat with protein in foods is highly correlated.)
Fish is a particularly important source of protein as it also contains other key nutrients for aging — such as omega-3 fatty acids.
But, amazingly, most American’s don’t eat fish.
That’s difficult for me to imagine when I look at the fresh seafood in markets and restaurants in New England during the summer and on the Gulf coast of Florida the rest of the year.
Also, it’s important to get “complete proteins” found in dairy and meat, which contain different kinds of amino acids.
By comparison, many plants have “incomplete proteins,” meaning they lack key specific amino acids, which can lead to deficiencies. Plants in the legume family, however, are higher in proteins because they host nitrogen-fixing bacteria that facilitate the synthesis of amino acids from the nitrogen in the soil.
One of my favorite botanical ingredients, called aspal (rooibos or red bush), is a legume. And studies show it has significant, anti-aging benefits that enhance physical performance in older men. For more information on aspal, simply search my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.
The bottom line for you?
Make sure you keep up your protein intake with foods that contain complete proteins, such as dairy, eggs, fish, and meat. Especially as you get older.
Specifically, I suggest you aim to eat between 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight a day. Which means:
- If you’re a 200-pound man, strive to eat between 90 to 135 grams of protein per day. Or about 3.2 to 4.8 ounces of protein daily.
- If you’re a 150-pound woman, strive to eat between 68 and 100 grams of protein per day. Or about 2.3 to 3.5 ounces of protein daily.
To calculate your optimal protein intake, simply divide your weight by 2.2 (since there are 2.2 kilograms in one pound.)
The people who really need to watch their protein intake are those with kidney disease, as I explained in the March 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“The deadly disease often ignored by modern medicine”). People with kidney disease can have issues filtering out phosphorus, an electrolyte commonly higher in many protein-rich foods.
If you’re interested in learning more simple, natural strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s — and beyond — I encourage you to check out my protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” For more information about this unique online learning tool, or to enroll today, simply click here.
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“Dietary Protein and Preservation of Physical Functioning Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults in the Framingham Offspring Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 2018: 187 (7): 1411-1419