Aging can play havoc with your nutritional status. Decreased appetite means you consume less food, and therefore fewer nutrients from food. Digestion and absorption aren’t what they used to be, so you absorb less of certain vitamins and minerals.
Eating less fat or fewer carbs might not be that concerning, but eating less protein can lead to problems. Muscles deteriorate with age. This deterioration — called sarcopenia — impacts most older adults. Physical activity can limit muscle loss. A sedentary lifestyle can accelerate it. Worse, muscle loss leads to poor fitness and endurance, leading to more inactivity. It’s a downhill spiral for muscles.
Staying active is critical to combating this problem. Eating adequate protein is the second part of the solution. Muscles are made of protein; the building blocks for muscles come from the protein you eat. Unfortunately protein intake can fall off with age, as our tastes change. Protein foods might seem less appetizing. Or too much trouble to cook, or too expensive.
One way to boost protein intake is to include it in snacks. Fortunately there are plenty of high protein foods that are ready-to-eat, easy to store and fit into a sometimes vegetarian diet. Here are some ideas for quick high protein snack foods.
Quick and easy high protein snacks
- Milk. It might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly easy and inexpensive. An 8 ounce glass of milk isn’t that much volume. Whole milk has 8 grams of protein; 2% has about 10. Add some whole grain crackers, or eat your milk poured over cereal. If you avoid cow’s milk, soy milk is the only plant-based drink that has significant protein. If you don’t care for regular milk, try kefir, which is fermented. Blend 6-8 oz with fresh fruit for a high protein smoothie.
- Yogurt. Not only is yogurt high protein, it’s got good bacteria and is sold in handy single-serve packages. Of course you can buy a larger quart-sized container and dish it out yourself, which might save some money. Add some fruit (fresh, frozen or canned) for additional nutrients and fiber.
- Cottage cheese. Many people of a certain age remember cottage cheese as the Go To diet food of the mid-20th century. On a volume-for-volume basis, cottage cheese packs more protein than milk or yogurt. I prefer it plain, with some raw vegetables on the side, but you can mix in some fresh or dried herbs (chives, mint and minced fresh basil are great) for more flavor.
- Hard boiled eggs. Make yourself a little egg salad by mixing a chopped egg with finely minced celery, chives, pickles or radishes. Season with a splash of vinegar and some salt. More adventurous? Add pickled jalapeno or other hot peppers.
- Canned or smoked fish. Tuna, sardines, smoked salmon and other smoked fish (trout, mackerel, etc) are high protein and most of these have the added benefit of omega-3 fats. Serve up 2-3 oz of fish on a bed of pre-washed greens.
- Nuts. Nuts are high protein, easy and delicious. It’s that last part that could get you into trouble. It’s really easy to over eat nuts if you’re eating them out of a container. Dish out 1/4 – 1/3 cup, put the rest away and add some fresh fruit or crispy vegetables to complement the rich flavor of nuts.
- Cheese. For an easy, non-fussy high protein snack, you can’t beat cheese. You don’t need a fork or even a plate. But like nuts, it’s easy to over do cheese if you don’t portion it out. Slice 1-2 ounces, accompanied by fresh fruit or vegetables. Or make a small green salad and add the cheese in chunks or grated. Season with vinegar.
What about protein drinks?
I’m not a fan of protein drinks, whether as mixes or ready-to-drink in cans or bottles. They’re highly processed and typically sweetened. But some people may find those more appealing. That can be particularly true for anyone recovering from an illness that severely impacted appetite.
Now that you’ve got several user-friendly ideas, you can use snacks to boost your protein intake. Added benefit: high protein snacks are satisfying and help to control cravings for sweets or carbs.