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Protein is getting expensive!

Protein is getting expensive!

The price of food may be the most frequent in-your-face sign of skyrocketing inflation. Anyone who buys food has seen costs going up, Up, UP. All types of food are affected, but it seems like the prices for high protein foods are really spiraling out of control. Who pays $20 for a small steak or $10 for a couple of pork chops or chicken breasts? Well I guess someone does.

Inflation and your diet

This sort of inflation doesn’t just impact your wallet; if inflation changes some of your food choices, it can impact your health and quality of life. Protein inflation is a particular concern for older people, who need to fight the muscle loss of old age — sarcopenia — by boosting protein intake. If inflation has you eating fewer high protein foods, you could be inviting trouble.

Sarcopenia is insidious. You don’t suddenly notice you have less muscle. Over time that muscle loss accelerates, leading to frailty, increasing risk of falls and broken bones, and sapping energy. Plenty of research shows that older adults can slow muscle loss with higher protein intake.

I advocate a “sometimes vegetarian” diet because meat is a very valuable source of high quality protein, as well as other key nutrients found only, or predominantly, in meat. Health professionals talk a lot about ‘plant-based diets’, without actually defining what that means. It is not defined as vegan or even vegetarian, although many people assume that. To me, plant-based means eating meat 3-4 times a week, filling out your meals with plant-based foods. Cheese, eggs, dairy foods and plant protein foods like nuts or legumes make up the protein at meatless meals. Whatever the source, you need some high protein food at each meal. Here are some good options:

Dairy Foods

Even with rising prices, eggs and dairy foods are still protein bargains. Eggs have the highest quality protein of any food, with dairy foods a close second. These foods are also versatile, convenient, and tasty. Here are the main choices, listed from roughly cheapest to more expensive:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • cottage cheese
  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • cheese

You can certainly find store-brand cheese that’s relatively inexpensive, but many gourmet and boutique cheeses are now shockingly pricey. The good news is you don’t typically chow down on large slabs of cheese at one sitting, maybe just an ounce at a time.

These foods are handy for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. Kefir is now part of my breakfast routine; cottage cheese makes for a quick high protein snack that also turns off sugar cravings. My new favorite quick dinner is a frittata made with a whole sweet onion (sautéed in olive oil), 2 eggs and 2-3 TB of grated cheddar cheese.

Ground Meat

I’m currently a fan of ground meat. Here’s why:

  • Easy to use.
  • No fuss, no bones or skin or gristle.
  • Nothing to throw in the trash because nothing to waste
  • Cooks quickly, but be sure to thoroughly cook all ground meat.
  • Comes ready to portion out. Or already portioned out. This is a plus, because you don’t need massive amounts of protein, just 3-4 ounces at a meal. You can buy a package of ground meat and portion out five 3-ounce+ pieces to freeze for future use.
  • Variety and versatility

Is there any meat you can’t buy ground? In addition to beef, you can find elk, bison, turkey, pork, lamb and chicken. They all have unique flavors and work well as burgers or in different types of recipes.

Canned Fish

Canned fish, like tuna or sardines, is another great protein source that’s easy to use and easily portioned. Lately some cans are suffering from “shrink-flation” — same sized can but less actual fish inside. What used to be a 6 ounce can of tuna may now be 5-1/2 ounces. Check the weight listed on the front of the package. Half a can would still be a very decent amount of protein for a meal or snack.

Tofu

Tofu is just so easy to use. Add it to a vegetable stir fry or a soup or season with a sauce. Most grocery stores carry a variety of ready-to-eat Asian-style sauces that go well with tofu. The only drawback is that you really do want to use tofu in a cooked dish. Eating plain tofu doesn’t sound appetizing.

For more detailed information about sarcopenia and protein intake, check out the Protein chapter in my book “Food Wisdom for Women“.

2 Take Aways

  1. Older people need to pay attention to protein intake. You don’t need giant portions, you just need enough and you need to include good protein sources at all your meals to support your muscles.
  2. Inflation is impacting high protein foods, but there are still excellent choices that (hopefully) won’t break the bank. You can eat smaller servings of the more expensive foods like meat, and supplement your diet with dairy, eggs and plant protein foods like tofu, nuts, nut butters and legumes.