Every human being needs protein.
Proteins are crucial for life because they are the main components of our cells. In fact, they are part of every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies.
They contribute to building, repairing and maintaining tissues. Proteins also serve other crucial functions, including triggering cell division, cell shape maintenance and cell movement. Another function proteins serve is assisting with movement.
It’s no wonder proteins are called the “building blocks of life.” They have a complex structure that consists of 20 smaller units called amino acids. All of the amino acids are important, but nine of them are called “essential amino acids.”
Among the foods that contain all the amino acids are animal sources such as meat, fish and dairy products. Foods that have many but not all of the amino acids include grains, fruits and vegetables.
When we consume carbohydrates and fats, our bodies are able to store the excess that is not immediately needed by the body.
But our bodies can’t store amino acids. That’s why we need a daily intake of them through protein in our diets.
Some experts believe that equally distributing protein intake over three meals during the day is just as important as getting enough protein overall.
Increase your protein intake
OK, so we know we need protein. But here’s something not all of us realize. As we age, we need more protein than we used to.
On average, men need 56 grams of protein daily, while the average woman requires 46 grams. That’s according to the Institute of Medicine, which also recommends 71 grams of protein per day for pregnant and lactating women.
Older adults are encouraged by health experts to increase their daily protein intake. For example, if you weigh 175 to 185 pounds, you should increase your daily protein intake to about 80 grams.
One of the main reasons we need more protein as we age is because protein helps our muscles and bones stay strong. That’s crucial for maintaining mobility and balance. And those abilities are crucial for living independently as long as possible.
Immune systems need protein
Older folks who don’t get enough protein are more prone to falls. They break hips and damage other parts of their bodies. It can take months for them to recover… if they are able to recover at all.
Protein can also help people fight off infection. That’s because the antibodies that help fight disease are made of protein. Our immune systems are made up of proteins.
So, if we don’t provide our bodies with enough protein, our immune systems are weakened.
That makes us more vulnerable to the countless bacteria and viruses that can invade our bodies. Protein also helps our bodies recover from illnesses and injuries.
A double whammy
Here’s the challenge we face. As we age, many of us eat less than we used to. We have less of an appetite, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that our abilities to taste and smell are not what they used to be.
Some of us don’t cook, or aren’t as interested in cooking as we used to be. Others have some difficulties with eating, due to teeth and gum issues.
So, at the same time that we need to consume more protein due to our age, our age is conspiring against us and influencing us to eat less.
Our need for nutrients is higher than ever, but because we’re eating less we’re not getting enough of those crucial macro and micro nutrients.