Protein: Where is it found and how much should I eat?

By Nicole Goben MS, RD, CDN

Protein is a staple of a healthy diet. People of all ages require protein but it is especially important for older adults to eat enough protein to maintain strong healthy bodies and prevent muscle loss.

Why is protein important?
Protein is needed to maintain muscle mass, fight infection and help the body recover from events such as surgery or injury.

How often should I have it?
It is best to consume a source of protein with every meal and snack in order to meet daily needs. The body can only use about 30 grams of protein at a time so if you typically eat all of your protein at one meal it may not all be used, so be sure to spread it throughout the day.

How much protein should I have?
An older adult may benefit from increased protein to prevent muscle loss. A Registered Dietitian can help you figure out exactly how much protein you need. In general, getting 20-30 grams of protein with each meal is a good goal.

How do I boost my protein intake?
Simple changes to your diet will help increase protein intake. Add peanut butter or cheese to crackers, switch out regular yogurt for Greek yogurt, which has more protein. Cook with milk instead of water, such as in oatmeal. Use the chart to find foods you enjoy that are high in protein!

Protein Content of Common Foods
Average grams of protein Serving Size Food group
21 – 24 g 3 oz. Beef, chicken or fish, cooked. (3 oz. is about the size of a deck of cards)
20 g 3 oz. Tuna fish, packed in water
12 – 13 g 5.3 oz. container Greek yogurt
13 g 1/2 cup Cottage cheese
9 g 1/2 cup Dried beans, peas, lentils
6 – 9 g 6 oz. Yogurt
8 g 1 cup Reduced-fat milk
8 g 2 tablespoons Peanut butter
7 g 1 oz. Cheese, aged (cheddar, jack, swiss)
7 g 1/2 cup Canned beans: kidney, black, garbanzo
6 g 1 large Egg, whole
6 g 1 oz. Nuts: peanuts, pistachios, almonds