5 easy ways to increase your protein intake

Protein-rich diets have long been the domain of competitive athletes and growing kids, but don’t forget seniors need plenty of protein too. According to a 2017 study, about one-third of older adults don’t get enough protein.

The reasons range from reduced appetite, dental issues, impaired taste, swallowing problems and limited financial resources, according to Kaiser Family Foundation Navigating Aging columnist Judith Graham.

“Combined with a tendency to become more sedentary, this puts them at risk of deteriorating muscles, compromised mobility, slower recovery from bouts of illness and the loss of independence,” she said.

The recommended dietary allowance is 0.36 grams of protein daily per pound of bodyweight, according to Consumer Reports. So a 150-pound adult requires about 54 grams of protein each day. To give you an idea, 3 ounces of grilled beef or chicken breast contains about 24 grams, while a half-cup of edamame offers 9 grams.

Consumer Reports also described a body of research that called for greater amounts of protein for adults over 65, closer to 0.45-0.55 grams per pound of body weight. Under those guidelines, the recommendation for a senior who weighs about 150 would amount to some 68-83 grams of protein per day.

Part of the need for increased protein comes from older adults’ inability to use protein as efficiently as younger people.

“Another factor is inflammation from infections and other medical problems, which hikes protein needs,” Consumer Reports said. “Plus, older adults are more likely to have chronic systemic inflammation, which raises the body’s protein requirements.”

There are a few simple-but-tasty exchanges or additions that will help you get more protein with meals and snacks. Here are five foods that yield about 10 grams of protein per serving, as recommended by registered dietitian Jessica Ball in Eating Well.

Nut butter

2 tablespoons, 8 grams of protein

Ball recommended dipping sliced fruit in nut butter or using it on toast in place of jam.

“Chances are that some of us tend to eat more than the 2-tablespoon serving at a time, which means you’d get even more protein plus healthy plant-based fats,” Ball said. “Peanut butter is also a great addition to smoothies.”

Cottage cheese

⅓ cup, 9 grams of protein

“While it might not be the most glamorous food in your fridge, cottage cheese is a great thing to have on hand to help boost your protein intake throughout the day,” Ball said.

Combine it with fruits, nuts or honey for a sweet snack, or bacon, tomatoes and freshly-snipped herbs for a savory pick-me-up.

Whole grain pasta

1 cup cooked, 9 grams protein

To bump up your protein, select whole-grain pasta over other processed starches. If you normally don’t enjoy the heavier texture and more pronounced flavor, begin by swapping a portion of your favorite white-flour pasta for a whole-grain product and then increase the whole grain variety gradually.

But do be careful to make sure the pasta you purchase includes higher protein content, registered dietitian and associate professor of clinical gerontology Cary Kreutzer told Consumer Reports.

“If you’re choosing protein-enriched products, remember that ‘high protein’ on the label means an item must contain 10 grams or more per serving,” Kreutzer said. “To be called a ‘good’ source, it must have 5 to 9.5 grams in a serving.”

Chia seeds

4 tablespoons, 10 grams of protein

That amount is probably more than you’d consume in one sitting, Ball said, but you’ll still get the boost by sprinkling them on foods like avocado toast or salad throughout the day or adding them to a smoothie.

Nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon, 8 grams of protein

Ball compared the flavor of nutritional yeast to “an umami-rich cheese dust—sans dairy” and said it’s handy to add to dressings and spice mixes. Or, use it as a plant-based alternative to parmesan on top of pasta, corn or roasted potatoes.

Nutritional yeast livens up air-popped popcorn, too, but be sure to spray the popped kernels with olive oil to get the yeast to adhere.

“As with other protein-packed foods like chia seeds and canned fish, a little goes a long way,” Ball said.

To get specialized news and articles about aging in place, health information and more, sign up for our Aging in Atlanta newsletter.