We know that protein is such an important part of our diets. It helps us recover after workouts, protects our bones, and even gives us energy. Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, registered dietitian and founder of BZ Nutrition, explains that getting enough protein now can also help you out as you age.
“As we age our muscles gradually get weaker and our bones become frail leading to muscle wasting, fractures, drastically decreasing your quality of life,” says Zeitlin. “Maintaining a good amount of protein in your diets much earlier on, starting in your 20s, helps to prevent all that weakening and decompensating from happening.”
While eating protein can’t stop aging in its tracks, Zeitlin says it can help with “repair” as things start breaking down.
“The older we get, the more ‘repair’ we need, and protein is our body’s main tool in performing repairs—that is true for inside and outside,” says Zeitlin. “Even our hair, skin, and nails need more of an assist through the years. [Women, especially] experience a lot of shifts in our hormones through our lives and protein remains an essential part of keeping them in balance and healthy.”
Andrea Mathis, RDN, an Alabama-based dietitian, says that people should also eat more protein as they age. “As we age, the recommended protein intake increases to help prevent our muscles from deteriorating and to help our bodies recover from injuries properly,” she says.
While getting enough protein is important, you should also consider the type of protein you’re eating.
The best protein bars, according to a dietitian:
“Most people think of our animal-based proteins first—looking at you, chicken,” says Zeitlin. “But when it comes to longevity and healthy aging, plant-based proteins play a key role thanks to their better-for-you fats and antioxidants.”
Pistachio nuts and hemp hearts are some of her favorite options. “One serving of this plant-based protein offers up 6 grams of protein. Plus their colors of green and red-purple come from those antioxidants,” says Zeitlin. She keeps the Wonderful Pistachios No Shells ($17) on hand to throw into salads and stir-fries. “Another great plant-based protein are Hemp Hearts, 1 serving provides 10 grams of protein and they are a good source of B vitamins that will help to keep your energy levels up throughout the days and years! Add them to your morning oats and smoothies.”
When it comes to animal proteins, Zeitlin says eggs are an excellent choice. “Just one egg provides 6 grams of high-quality protein and is an excellent source of choline, a nutrient that works to support cognition, keeping our brain sharp through the years,” she says. “Another bonus of eggs is that they have carotenoids, too, which promote healthy eyes as we age. Scramble them with spinach for breakfast, go hard boiled for a snack, and for dinner, mix them with your cauliflower rice and other veggies for a protein-rich ‘fried rice.’”
Eggs are nature’s multivitamin:
Seafood is another great choice because of its serious omega-3 fatty acid content. “Omega-3 fatty acids [help decrease] inflammation throughout the body, working to fight against premature effects of aging,” says Zeitlin. “Add some lox to your bagel, shrimp to your stir-fry, tuna to your salad, and pair broiled salmon with your favorite veg for dinner.”