As one grows older, watching what they eat becomes increasingly important. A balanced diet comprising of all vital nutrients in the optimum quantity is of utmost importance among older adults. However, older adults are not consuming enough proteins, says a new study.

According to a study by researchers from the University of Sheffield's Healthy Lifespan Institute, over half the older people in the UK are not consuming sufficient proteins in order to stay healthy. The study which was conducted in South Yorkshire, UK found that less than 15 percent of the participants met the UK recommendation of daily intake of proteins.

"Frailty and related musculoskeletal problems cost the UK an estimated £7 billion per year, so never has the maintenance of healthy lean body mass been so important for a healthy active life as we age," said Dr Elizabeth Williams, co-author of the study.

Old age
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Diets of older adults from South Yorkshire analysed

The diets of 256 adults between the ages of 65 to 89 years from the South Yorkshire area were assessed. They examined two available datasets that had comprehensive and vital information regarding the dietary consumption of older adults in the area.

It was found that less than 50 percent of the participants met the official UK recommendation of intake of 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight every day, which roughly translates to nearly 53 grams for men and 46 grams for women.

Experts suggested standards not met either

Many experts suggest that the intake of protein must be higher than the recommended UK standards, with some international organisations suggesting that the ideal daily intake must be 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The study, however, found that less than 15 percent of the participants met this recommendation.

"We know the national guidelines do not necessarily reflect the increased requirements older adults have to maintain their muscle mass, so a useful strategy for people of mid-to-older age is to include a source of protein with every meal," said Dr Williams.

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An intake of 25-30 grams of protein during each of their three meals has also been shown to be beneficial for the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis in older adults. However, only one participant in the study was meeting this requirement. The others were found to be consuming lower levels of protein-dense foods, especially during breakfast.

"Inadequate protein intake contributes to muscle wastage, impacting physical function and increasing the risk of frailty and mortality through falls. This risk is again increased in older adults with obesity, who may be unable to exercise or move freely, as their weight may mask the problem," Dr Bernard Corfe, co-author of the study.

Morning intake of protein must increase

Fish and dairy formed the basis of protein intake in 86 percent of the participants. According to the researchers, increasing their morning intake of protein could benefit older adults greatly.

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Suggesting ways to incorporate more proteins, Williams said, "As an indicator, you can get 32 grams of protein from a chicken breast and 6 grams from an egg. Older adults can easily bolster their protein intake by eating a high-protein breakfast cereal, or an egg and slice of brown toast for breakfast." She also suggested the inclusion of plant-based and sustainable sources of proteins such as lentils, peas, beans and tofu.

More than just simple calorific requirement

Building upon the findings of the study, the researchers are now working on a proposal focussing on how proteins can aid in the reduction of muscle loss during cancer treatment. "Treatments such as chemotherapy can worsen rates of muscle wastage, so we hope to further this research and see if we can identify if protein consumption can contribute to improved outcomes for those undergoing cancer treatments," added Dr Corfe.