As we get older protein requirements increase. This may have you concerned that your diet has to be filled with meat. But this isn’t the case. You can supplement or replace your meat protein with plant based protein.
Why do you need more protein?
Many women suffer from muscle loss or sarcopenia as they get older. Adding protein to your diet helps to offset this, although adding resistance training to accompany the extra protein is a good idea.
Protein helps to maintain bone density. Low bone density and osteoporosis are common in women after menopause. This is another case for also adding resistance training, or weight bearing exercise.
If you are trying to lose weight, then diets that are higher in protein may be beneficial.
Why choose non meat foods
If you are not a big meat eater, then the requirements for more protein may have you concerned. But there are many sources of protein that are not meat. So why should you choose these?
- Add variety to your diet
- Plant based protein sources are higher in vitamins, minerals and fibre
- Many women find non meat protein is more palatable for breakfast
- It goes better in a smoothie. I’ve never tried a chicken breast smoothie, but greek yogurt or hemp seeds are great
- You likely eat fewer calories with non meat sources of protein
- Many people choose to eat less (or no) meat for ethical or environmental reasons. This is a personal choice.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
A few weeks ago I published an article about all or nothing attitudes for weight loss. The carnivore vs vegetarian debate is another case of all or nothing. Fortunately this attitude is changing.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat a plant based diet.
If you don’t want to give up meat, you can still get the benefits of plant based proteins by adding them to your diet
What’s the scoop on protein quality
Not all protein is created equally. Protein consists of one or more amino acids. The amino acids that are required by humans are called essential amino acids. The protein found in different foods contains different amounts of these amino acids. Protein from animal products usually has a more balanced amino acid profile. There are different measures to determine the protein quality of various foods, but if you get a variety of sources you will likely have the amino acids covered.
Non meat sources of protein
In the tables below I list many sources of protein that are not meat, fish or poultry. For reference a 3 oz (86 g) chicken breast contains 28 grams of protein. Remember that these foods all have other benefits so don’t choose them solely on the protein quantity. An example is almonds vs walnuts. Almonds have more protein, but walnuts have more omega 3 fatty acids and more magnesium.
Beans and lentils
Legumes offer so much variety and are a staple of many ethnic cuisines. They are also protein powerhouses. They also contain loads of fibre which is an important part of your diet.
I use chickpeas to make hummus or toss them in salads, lentils in salads and soups and all kinds of beans in my vegetarian chilli. I even add lentils to my morning oatmeal.
Here is a list of common beans and lentils and their protein content (in grams) in a 1/2 cup (125 ml) serving:
If you tolerate dairy, then it can be a convenient way to add protein to your diet. Greek yogurt is an especially concentrated form of protein, but milk, yogurt and cheese are also good sources of protein. Choose dairy sources that are unsweetened, otherwise you are likely getting more sugar than protein. Add unsweetened frozen or fresh fruit if you like. See the table below for protein content:
|Greek Yogurt||18||6 oz serving|
|Cottage Cheese||14||4 oz serving|
|Regular yogurt||11||1 cup|
|Cheddar Cheese||7||1 oz|
Eggs are of course an excellent source of protein. The protein in eggs is considered to be ideal since it contains the essential amino acids in the proportions needed by humans. Eggs are also very versatile. They can be eaten boiled, scrambled, fried, or baked. Add them to casseroles or stir fries to add extra protein. Eggs have approximately 6 g of protein each.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great additions to your diet. Some of these are high in protein. I add nuts or seeds to salads, stir fries, oatmeal or eat them as a snack.
Here is a list of the protein content of some nuts and seeds. This is for a 1 oz serving.
Whole grains have higher protein than their refined counterparts. However, most whole grains do not have a significant amount of protein. They do provide some, so they should not be ignored. See the table below to understand how whole grains can contribute to your protein intake.
|Quinoa *||4||1/2 cup cooked|
|Whole wheat bread||4||1 slice|
|Oats||6||1 cup cooked|
|Brown Rice||5||1 cup cooked|
|Whole wheat pasta||6||100 g serving|
* Quinoa is technically a seed, but is considered a pseudo grain because it is used as a grain. It is also a complete protein, having the essential amino acids in the right proportion for humans
Vegetables, like whole grains, do not make a big contribution to protein intake, but some vegetables do contain a reasonable amount of protein. The list below will help you to focus on the vegetables that contain more protein than others.
|Broccoli||2||1/2 cup chopped|
|Green Peas||4||1/2 cup|
|Kale||3||1 cup chopped|
|Cauliflower||1||1/2 cup chopped|
Getting enough protein is important for women during menopause. Protein can come from meat sources, other animal sources, or from vegetable sources. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can use the tables provided to find out which non meat sources of protein should be added to your diet.