Long before the threat of a coronavirus-inspired meat shortage, some nutritionists got together to discuss the role protein plays in our health.
Their theory was that Americans were eating too much protein. But their results were very different…
The findings, which were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that the average American was not getting enough protein in their diet. Especially older adults.
It was a surprising result… and is a big concern.
And now that we’re looking at empty shelves in the meat department, the health of millions of Americans – especially seniors – is at risk…
Protein plays a vital role in healthy aging.
Our bodies use protein to build and repair tissues. So we need to bring in at least as much as we’re using.
If we don’t get enough protein, we see it first in our hair and nails. Thinning hair and ridges in the nails are two of the first signs of protein deficiency.
But from there, things get much, much worse…
Without enough protein, the body breaks down muscles and joint fluid… leading to muscle weakness and joint pain.
It can also lead to liver damage because protein helps the liver detox.
A lack of protein can also cause blood pressure to drop… a condition known as hypotension.
Low blood pressure is usually seen as a good thing. But if it drops too low, it can be extremely dangerous.
Early warning signs are confusion, dizziness, a weak pulse and rapid breathing. But if left unchecked, these early warning signs can turn into a life-threatening malady.
Then there are concerns about immune health.
A lack of protein does a number on the immune system (which is obviously crucial right now). In order to repair body tissue and fight off bacterial and viral infections, the immune system needs protein.
When we feel weak and sluggish if we don’t get enough protein, so does our immune system. Not enough protein makes for a fragile immune system… Because the immune system relies on protein to energize antibodies and other immune system cells.
Plus, not getting enough protein means we won’t properly absorb other nutrients that bolster our immune response (like zinc, folic acid and vitamin E).
Your Daily Dose
So, meat shortage or not, it’s positively crucial that we all make sure we’re getting enough protein… one way or another.
Current guidelines recommend people consume 0.36 grams of protein multiplied by how many pounds they weigh.
So someone who weighs 200 pounds should be taking in about 72 grams of protein per day. But that’s the minimum required to keep everything fit as a fiddle.
Those over 65 need to up that figure closer to 0.55 to 0.68 grams per pound. So that equates to 110 to 136 grams of protein for a 200-pound person every day.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of protein.
To hit those levels just from meat would require you to eat five 3.5-ounce cuts of wild-caught salmon a day… or five hamburgers… or a 16-ounce steak.
This is where the importance of a balanced diet comes in.
A cup of cooked lentils brings 20 grams of protein to the table. Most beans come pretty close to that as well.
Nutritional yeast is another great source of protein. And because it’s nearly flavorless, it’s easily added to yogurt, thrown on top of salads or mixed in with mashed potatoes.
You can also throw nutritional yeast into a bowl of oatmeal – which happens to be an excellent source of protein in its own right.
If you look at the headlines, it would be easy to panic over the latest phase of this crisis. But with a little effort, we can come out of this on the other side even healthier than we were before. And one of the single most important ways to do that is by making sure we’re all getting enough protein. Meat shortage be damned.
Like what you’re reading? Let us know your thoughts here.