How Can Older Adults Add More Protein To Their Diet?

by Stephanie Skinner-Lucas, MS, RDN, LDN

Last Updated: April 19, 2021

As an older adult, maybe you have heard from your doctor or dietitian lately that protein is a very important macronutrient for this stage of your life. It is recommended to incorporate protein into every meal. Believe it or not, intake patterns show average intakes of protein-dense foods is lower for individuals aged 71 and older than adults aged 60 through 70. About 50 percent of women and 30 percent of men 71 and older fall short of protein recommendations. Consuming enough protein is important to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs naturally with age. The loss of muscle mass and function that is caused by age is called sarcopenia. Let’s learn a bit more about the importance of protein and muscle mass.

Did you know that muscle mass decreases approximately 3-8% per decade after 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60? Sarcopenia typically increases around age 75, and it may speed up as early as 65 or as late as 80. Although many factors can contribute to muscle loss, not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass is one of them. Monitoring protein intake is especially important as adults transition through various life stages. There are many ways to add more protein and nutrient-dense value to your daily routine. Let’s start with eggs.

Eggs, egg whites and egg yolks.
Eggs are low-carb, low calorie, and a nutritious source of fat-soluble vitamins if you eat the yolk, of course. Surprisingly enough, eggs are the most inexpensive source of protein in the grocery store, compared to other protein and protein alternatives. One egg provides 6-8 grams of muscle-building protein with only 70 calories. They also provide vitamin D, fatty acids, B vitamins, and choline, which are important nutrients for overall health.

Tips for increasing your consumption of eggs:
  • Hard-cooked eggs can be chopped and added to a colorful, crisp nutritious salad, added alongside some cooked collard or turnip greens to make deviled egg filling, and as a sandwich spread to go along with your favorite soup for a relaxing meal.
  • Elevate the nutrition of your mashed potatoes, vegetable purees & sauce by beating an egg in them.
  • Try adding extra egg whites to quiches, scrambled eggs, custards, puddings, pancake batter, or French toast wash/batter to boost the protein content.

The lower-carb snacks listed above offer beneficial nutrients like protein, fiber, healthy fats and various vitamins and minerals. As delicious as they are, they’re also filling to help with satisfaction in between meals. Visit for more recipe ideas that fuel your day.

Beans and legumes.
Beans and legumes are a power-packed source of protein. One serving or ½ cup cooked beans increases the level of protein on your plate by 7 grams. Beans add fiber, B-vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc to meet daily nutrient needs. Eating more beans as part of a balanced meal plan can help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, and other heart disease and diabetes risks.

Tips for increasing your consumption of beans:
  • Cook and use dried peas, beans, and tofu in soups or add to casseroles, pasta, and grain dishes that already contain cheese or meat.
  • Add cheese and milk to mashed up beans for a dip.
  • Use pea protein powder to make smoothies.

Milk, nonfat dry milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Milk is an excellent source of protein, with 8g in 8 fluid ounces and 1 serving of dry milk. Milk provides valuable calcium, and many are fortified with vitamin A and D. What a great way to keep bones and teeth strong and help prevent osteoporosis.

Tips for increasing milk consumption:
  • Use milk in preparing foods such as hot cereal, cream soups, cocoa, or pudding.
  • Add liquid milk in cream sauces to vegetables and other dishes.
  • For ‘double strength’ milk, include 1/3 cup of nonfat dry milk or protein powder to each cup of regular milk.
  • Add nonfat dry milk or protein powder to scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, pudding, yogurt, and smoothies.
  • Add cottage cheese to fruits and vegetables.
  • Puree cottage cheese or use yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.
  • Garnish cheese on sandwiches, bread, hamburgers, other meat or fish, vegetables, and eggs.
  • Use seasoned yogurt as a dip for fruits, vegetables, or chips.

Meat and fish.
Next time you eat some flavorful meat, know that you are enjoying between 14-28 grams of protein in a 3oz serving and around 22g protein when eating that tasty fish entrée. Meats are a superb source of B vitamins, zinc & selenium. Omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and slow the development of plaque in the arteries. Find Omega-3 fatty acids in certain fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and more.

Tips for increasing meat and fish consumption:
  • Add cooked, diced meat or fish to vegetables, salads, casseroles, soup, tacos, sauces, and wraps.
  • Use in omelets, quiches, and sandwich fillings.
  • Add meat of choice to stuffing and stuffed baked potatoes.
  • Wrap in pie crust or biscuit dough as turnover.
  • Make a one-pan meal with salmon fillets and vegetables.

Peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.
Most of us love our standby peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Peanut butter is a great plant-based protein source and also healthy fat too. A two-tablespoon serving is loaded with 8 grams of protein. Peanut butter contains many vitamins & minerals, and these are just a few: magnesium, folate, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), Vitamin B3 (niacin), biotin, copper, manganese, vitamin E, potassium, zinc. Certain nuts and seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts) provide the heart benefits of omega 3 fatty acids.

Tips to increase your consumption of peanut butter:
  • Spread peanut butter on sandwiches, toast, crackers, waffles, pancakes, and fruit slices.
  • Use as a dip for raw vegetables such as carrots and celery.
  • Blend with milk drinks, smoothies, and other beverages.
  • Swirl peanut butter through soft ice cream or yogurt.
  • Spread peanut butter on a banana then roll in crushed, dry cereal or chopped nuts or simply roll a banana in chopped nuts.
  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds on fruit, cereal, ice cream, yogurt, vegetables, salads, and toast as a crunchy topping.

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many older adults obtain their protein from meats, poultry, and eggs and under consume seafood, dairy, and beans. Consuming a variety of protein can aid in keeping your plate balanced, stimulating, and enjoyable! There are many healthy protein options that provide numerous health benefits. Consider selecting a different source with your meal this week.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Stephanie Skinner-Lucas, MS, RDN, LDN

Stephanie Skinner-Lucas, MS, RDN, LDN

Stephanie is a proactive dietitian who believes healthy lifestyle changes are made one habit at a time. Small intentional steps early in life can lead to long-term victories for the rest of your life. With a background from geriatric nutrition to meal planning, renal disease to weight management, Stephanie has had the opportunity to serve many populations. She believes success is achieved by listening, mentoring and partnering with each individual to find what they need to live their healthiest life. Stephanie loves preparing meals with spice, crunch & texture that awakens the palate! In her free time, she enjoys helping others, walking for charity and improving her golf swing.