One of the health challenges people face as they age is the loss of muscle mass. This loss begins at age 25 in both men and women, and accelerates after age 55. Two big contributors to this decline are a lack of physical activity and poor choices when it comes to eating balanced meals (or even eating meals at all).
Many studies have pointed to the current recommended daily allowances found on the nutrition facts panel of food packaging as being too low to maintain muscle mass for aging adults. The new recommended amount of protein for seniors is around 100 grams per day, broken up into three meals and one snack in order to avoid storing excess protein as fat or simply expelling it from the body. When protein intake is divided into multiple meals, it allows the body to metabolize it for muscle growth and maintenance throughout the day. While carbohydrates are the fuel for the muscles, the body needs protein building blocks to do something with that energy, like exercise or solve difficult problems. Low protein, even with normal levels of sugar, accounts for crashes as the energy comes and goes without somewhere for it to go.
For optimum daily energy, it’s important to get enough protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Protein at breakfast in particular can help regulate body function and contribute to normal fat burn during the day. It’s important to make sure that each meal has lean proteins, and at least one features animal protein to deliver nutrients and amino acids only found in animals. Those averse to eating animal protein should invest in amino acid supplements. It’s also a good idea to have a fortified breakfast cereal with breakfast as many B vitamins are added to them and have been linked to improved health in older adults.
Sometimes, older adults suffer from lack of appetite, impacting their food intake. Part of that may be attributed to the lack of bright and diverse colors in their food selections. It’s important to add brightly colored veggies to these protein-heavy meals to help stimulate appetite. Not eating can spiral into muscle loss and muscle is hard to replace or maintain in older adults, which makes sticking to regular meals an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Studies have also indicated that omega-3 fats, like those in avocado and extra virgin olive oil, are important to brain function and limit the body’s craving for dense and less healthy saturated fats.
Here is a sample menu for a day of healthy eating:
Breakfast: a fortified cereal with milk, and an egg on the side.
Lunch: a sandwich comprising whole wheat bread and an animal protein, such as a turkey, and a salad on the side.
Protein-based snack: a couple of cheese sticks.
Dinner: a dense protein, such as half a chicken breast, with sweet potatoes, green beans, roasted peppers, and/or broccoli on the side.
By Justin Walls