Protein-Rich Foods for Seniors: 5 Essential Sources for a Healthy Diet

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Protein-Rich Foods for Seniors:
5 Essential Sources for a Healthy Diet


The word ‘protein’ comes from a Greek adjective that means ‘first rank’. The name reflects the importance of this essential macronutrient. Our bodies require protein for the growth and repair of cells as well as for the maintenance of essential functions.

Protein is available from a variety of plant-based as well as animal-based sources. However, all protein sources are not created equal. The nutritional value of protein sources differs due to the amount of essential amino acids they contain. Animal-based products have all the 9 essential amino acids and are therefore known as ‘complete’ proteins (or ideal or high-quality proteins).

Apart from animal-based sources, quinoa, amaranth, and soy products are also high-quality protein sources. Other plant-based protein sources, such as beans, nuts, whole grains and lentils lack one or few essential amino acids, because of which they are ‘incomplete’ sources. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to combine or alternate your sources to ensure that you get all the essential amino acids.


Importance of Adequate Protein Intake For Seniors

For adults, the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This is the minimum amount of protein an adult needs to consume every day. The specific requirement of protein varies according to age, gender, weight, and health.

Beyond 30 years of age, each decade, we lose 5% of lean muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia) is an inevitable part of ageing, but we can slow down the rate at which it progresses. An unhealthy diet and inactivity can exacerbate sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can interfere with daily activities such as walking, standing up after sitting, opening a jar, and carrying stuff. It can also lead to falls and other injuries. So, to combat this loss of muscle mass and strength, you need to pay special attention to nutrition, and regularly participate in fitness activities.

Seniors need higher dietary protein than younger adults. According to research, if you’re above 50, you need at least 0.45 grams of protein per pound of body weight. You also need to vary your protein sources. Here are 5 protein-rich sources that can help you maintain a healthy diet:



The best part about eggs is that they’re so versatile. You can add them to dishes, or consume them on their own. Having an egg or two for breakfast is a great way to start the day. You can get 6 to 7 grams of protein from an average-sized egg. Eggs are also easily digestible, and quite an affordable source of protein. Eggs are also a good source of other nutrients such as vitamin D, choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

A lot of people avoid eggs because they are also a source of dietary cholesterol. However, research shows that the effect of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is minimal. If you are still concerned about cholesterol, eliminate or reduce other sources of cholesterol from your diet. An egg a day can actually keep the doctor away. Just remember to cook eggs completely, to do away with the risk of salmonella.



Seafood is a high-quality source of protein. Just a three-ounce serving of fish or shellfish can take care of almost one-third of your daily protein requirement. Compared to meat and poultry, seafood is a low-calorie source of protein. Lobster is high in protein and an absolute delicacy. A 100-gram serving of lobster provides around 22.1 grams of protein. The other top sources of protein in seafood are shrimp and halibut fish.

Seafood is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, riboflavin, iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and zinc. Consuming adequate amounts of seafood can help with memory, enhance heart health, and reduce inflammation.


Dairy Products

Dairy products come under the animal-based protein source category, and therefore, are complete sources of protein. They provide all the essential amino acids which our bodies cannot make, and which we need to get through dietary sources.

The most healthy sources of protein among dairy products are low-fat yoghurt and cottage cheese. You can mix yoghurt with fresh fruit puree and top it with fresh fruit slices for a healthy dessert option. Or, you can spread low-fat cheese on your toast in the morning.



Legumes comprise an inexpensive vegetarian/vegan source of protein. This is a plant-based protein option, which also provides a high amount of fibre, potassium and folate. Your healthiest options include chickpeas, peas, kidney beans and peanuts.

Here are some easy ways to include legumes in your diet:

•   Add beans to your soup, casseroles or salads.
•   Use hummus (made of chickpeas) as a dip for fresh vegetable sticks.
•   Spread some natural peanut butter (with no sugar) on bread for a healthy sandwich.


Seeds and Nuts

This is another excellent plant-based source of protein. Nuts mostly have similar macronutrient content, but there are small differences in their micronutrient content. Did you know that nuts can also provide protection against chronic diseases? Seeds have nutrient profiles that are as good as nuts. Try to consume a variety of nuts and seeds to derive maximum benefits.

You can add roasted chopped almonds to salads. Consume a few roasted nuts instead of other unhealthy snacking options. It’s best to avoid salted nuts, due to the high sodium content. If it’s difficult to consume nuts and seeds because of the hard texture, you can always go for nut butter and pastes (such as tahini).


Wrapping Up

As we age, we need more protein for the efficient functioning of our bodies and for the maintenance of optimal health. Fortunately, protein is available in varied and delicious sources. Prioritize protein-rich foods and engage in regular physical activity to sustain muscle mass, support your overall health and fitness and lead a more fulfilling, active and independent life.



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Alternatives for Seniors helps seniors, senior care professionals, and senior living communities nationwide.

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Thank You to Our Guest Blog Writer:

Sean Lynam

Sean is a fitness enthusiast and personal trainer by profession, and a freelance writer by passion.
Sean writes and shares his knowledge for a range of fitness publications and nutrition brands.


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