Vegetarians may live longer on average, but a new study suggests that eating more animal protein preserves physical and mental function as you age.
A recent study out of Japan found that elderly men who ate the most animal protein showed the least physical and cognitive decline compared to those who ate the least. This will probably confuse a lot of folks, because we’ve heard almost nothing but bad news about meat lately - in particular, how high intake of meat throughout life is linked to decreased lifespan.
See also: Is Red Meat Really Bad For You?
Although many plant foods contain protein, animal foods are by far the most concentrated and bioavailable sources of protein. It could be that older men who eat more animal protein—which, includes fish and eggs as well as chicken and beef—are much more likely to meet their protein requirements than those who are relying on vegetable sources.
How Protein Delays Aging
We need more protein to offset the age-related loss of muscle tissue. Losing muscle mass as we age is a big deal because when we lose muscle mass, we tend to lose bone mass as well, initiating a whole downward spiral of increased frailty and diminished function.
How Much Protein Do You Need as You Age?
Keeping your protein intake up as you age is a good hedge against aging and disability. Aim for between 60g to 80g of protein per day and try to get at least half of that from animal sources. (If you have reduced kidney function, you need to check in with your health care professional to be sure your kidneys are up for the job.)
See also: Nutrition Diva's Protein Cheat Sheet