Protein is essential for our bodies to build and grow healthy tissue; this includes internal organs, muscle and skin. It is well known that the presence of protein (Collagen and elastin) in the skin has anti ageing effects. But now Japanese researchers have found a diet rich in protein, especially fish reduces mental and physical decline in males. But is this true, or are they just trying to promote sushi?
The study, led by Megumi Tsubota Utsugi at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo, was published in the ‘American Geriatrics Society’. 1007 men and women with an average age of 67 competed questionnaires; one at the start of the study and a follow up 7 years later. They were asked about their diet, including consumption of animal and plant proteins.
Based on the amount of protein participants reported on consuming, the data was divided into 4 categories and further analysed. The researchers concluded that during the 7 year study 25% of the participant’s cognitive skills had declined. The men who consumed the most animal protein reduced their risk of mental and physical decline by 39%.
Protein is an excellent source of energy, plus it keeps you fuller for longer, so swap your beef burger and chips for fish and potato.
Animal protein is better utilised by the body but because our ability to process protein declines with age, a person’s protein requirements may increase. Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre Dallas, explains that “high quality protein can help preserve lean muscle that is lost with aging and can affect daily functioning”.
Strangely the same benefits were not witnessed in women. The reasons for this are not fully understood though Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University St Louis, says “men have more muscle to start with; it may be that animal protein allows for overall better performance. But this would be an area that requires more study”.
Loosing muscle mass affects your quality of life, organ health and immune system, however overloading out bodies with protein is not advised. “As we get old our kidneys and other organs may not be able to handle excessive amounts of protein” warns Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York.
Protein should account for 15% of your diet (45 grams for women and 55 grams for men) with the best option being fish, as it is naturally low in fat. Red or processed meat is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and dementia.
The most important thing, as Heller says, is that “our ageing population is eating a balanced, healthy diet replete with adequate fluids and healthy sources of protein, including fish, chicken, legumes and nuts”.