The Power of Protein
Calories aren't the only thing you need to watch as you get older. Protein is important because it helps keep your muscles strong. You need muscles for strength and balance, as well as for everything from walking up stairs to carrying groceries. Protein also keeps your heart strong and boosts your immune system to keep you from getting sick.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Women should get 46 grams of protein a day. Men need 56 grams. People with some conditions like kidney disease may need less. Spreading your protein throughout the day helps keep you full so you eat fewer calories. Here's how to make sure you get a healthy variety of proteins every day.
Beef, pork, and lamb are protein powerhouses, but some cuts can be high in artery-clogging fat and cholesterol. Pick lean options like round and loin (sirloin, tenderloin, and top round), and ground beef that has 5% or less fat. When eating red meat, have moderate portion sizes. A 3-ounce serving of meat (the size of a deck of cards) has about 21 grams of protein.
Poultry and Eggs
Choose lean poultry like skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets. A 3-ounce chicken breast has 31 grams, more than half the protein you need each day. An egg has 6 grams. Research suggests that an egg a day doesn't raise heart disease chances in healthy people. But if you have high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, you should limit your cholesterol intake and not eat more than three egg yolks a week (the whites are OK).
Besides being a great protein source, seafood is low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that protect your heart. A 3-ounce salmon steak has about 17 grams of protein. Other high-protein, heart-healthy choices include tuna, sardines, and trout. Try to eat 4 ounces of seafood twice a week.
Dairy foods are full of muscle-building protein. They also help lower blood pressure and cut your risk of diabetes. One cup of skim milk has 8 grams of protein. If you want even more, try fat-free Greek yogurt. One serving can have up to 18 - 20 grams of protein -- double the amount of traditional yogurt. Shoot for three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products every day.
Soybeans have a lot of protein. You can eat the beans (edamame), drink soy milk, use soy paste (miso) in sauces and soups, or eat meat alternatives and tofu. One cup of cooked edamame packs 29 grams of protein, more than a steak. One cup of soy milk has almost as much protein as regular milk. Considering taking soy supplements or powders? Even if they claim to be natural, they can be an issue if you are on hormone therapy or have had breast cancer. Check with your doctor.
Vegetables and Beans
You can get plenty of protein from plant-based sources like vegetables and beans. Beans -- including red, black, and kidney -- can have up to 18 grams of protein per cup. A cup of cooked peas has 9 grams of protein, and a medium baked potato has 4 grams.
It's always best to get protein from food. But if you're not getting enough from your diet, protein powders, bars, and supplements may help. You can also try making your own protein drink. Blend fat-free Greek yogurt, soy or skim milk, and fruit. For even more protein, add a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Nuts and Seeds
You get 8 grams of protein from 1/2 ounce of pumpkin or sunflower seeds (1 tablespoon), nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, or seven walnuts), or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Eating nuts several times a week lowers your chance of heart attack. Toss them into salads and steamed vegetables. Because nuts and seeds are full of calories, don't have more than 1/2 ounce a day.