What is protein, exactly?
Protein is an important macronutrient that’s part of every cell, tissue, and organ. Proteins are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The body needs a total of 20 different amino acids to make all kinds of proteins. Nine amino acids are considered essential amino acids because they’re not produced by the body. Instead, you get them from food.
Because the body constantly breaks down and replaces protein (and doesn’t store any amino acids for future use), you need a daily supply of amino acids from the foods you eat to continually make new proteins.
What foods provide protein?
There are various healthy foods with protein from both animal and plant sources. Animal protein sources, which typically provide high-quality protein, include eggs, milk, meat, poultry, and fish. Plant protein sources include soy, tofu, tempeh, legumes, and nuts.
Can protein help improve health?
If you’re working to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or improve heart health, getting more protein might help! Studies have shown that consuming more protein can help you feel full and manage weight.3 Other research suggests that increasing protein in diet may have a positive impact on blood pressure.4,5 Consuming protein from plant sources, rather than red meat, also has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.6
What are the protein needs of older adults?
More than 40% of adults over age 50 don’t consume the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein from food alone.7 Plus, research suggests that the RDA for protein may not be adequate for aging adults. The current RDA is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but experts now estimate that older adults need 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or higher per day.6 The current RDA is based on research in young adults and doesn’t promote ideal health or protect older adults from sarcopenia (loss of muscle and function with aging).
Researchers also advise that an adequate amount of protein intake with each meal—25 to 30 grams of high-quality protein—is important to help build protein and necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis.8 Protein intakes at this level are particularly beneficial for older adults as a strategy to maintain muscle mass.