Ageing well with protein

Ageing well with protein

A motto of mine has always been inspired from a comment I heard about Katherine Hepburn once; that she aged with grace. Katherine made me feel like there was nothing stressful about ageing, and as long as you lived your life healthy and well, then there was little to be fearful of and much to enjoy.

Katherine’s strategy in life was essentially a no fuss and simple approach. Eating real food without fussing about it, including chocolate, a reverence for life and to exercise. Nothing fancy in her typical way – but the simple recipe to the best life you can achieve.

Protein becomes more important after 30 years of age

However, there are some dietary components that are important in aging, only because we tend to not get enough as we age, and one of these is protein. From about the age of 30, we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of 3-8% each decade, and our immune system and brain function also rely a lot on different amino acids from protein. This means that as we age or during illness and injury – keeping up protein is important and needs to increase from about 0.8g to about about 1.5g for every kg of you weight  every day by the time we are in our 60s.

We need up to 100g of protein per day at our peak

This means that a senior person weighing 65kg, will need to eat just shy of 100 grams of protein in a day. A piece of 100g salmon has approximately 25g of protein, while an egg has about 7g. You can see that eating 7 eggs per day is not the way to go, so keeping on top of protein rich foods throughout the day is important to get a diversity of amino acids, and also enough of them. For example, Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is used up a lot in aging as it supports our immune system, but it is also needed for the production of serotonin and then melatonin – something that is vital for our sleep. So getting enough protein is also one of the factors that will contribute to better sleeping patterns and better mood. Further, adequate protein has been shown to be important in preventing osteoporosis, and can improve the recovery from hip fractures.

We need different sources of protein because we need diverse amino acids throughout the day

People on plant rich diets need to consider what plants are rich in proteins, and also all of the essential amino acids. We know that legumes and nuts are up there with the best sources, but some seaweeds might surprise you. In our research on diverse seaweeds, we have shown that grown in ideal conditions, our PhycoGreen seaweed can contain up to 40% protein in its dried form, and our protein rich PhycoTein ingredient can have up to 60% protein. This means that a 100g of our base range of staple foods  like PhycoMuesli, Phettucine could include up to 10g of protein with all of the essential amino acids. Phukka even contains a whopping 20% protein, which is why eating liberally on smashed avocado toast for breakfast, or stirred into your mashed potatoes at night, will add nutritional value to you daily routine. This way you get to spread the protein throughout the day, which helps to make the most of the protein that you eat as well. 

Getting B12 and bioavailable iron with protein

We found in the early days of our research, that our seaweed is particularly rich in protein, along with other associated components such as B12 and trace elements like iron. We know that under our perfect cultivation conditions for happy seaweed, we are able to maintain the high levels of protein in PhycoGreen and PhycoTein ingredients. We also found that the amino acid profile of our seaweed was full of the essential amino acids (see below).


Developing new ways to eat seaweed protein

This is why we have commenced a seaweed protein research program within the Uniquely Australian Foods at the University of Queensland. These ingredients will be considered at more and more in depth analysis of the protein profile, digestibility and bio-availability, but also look further at what types of foods might they be included in to make getting protein from seaweed an easy thing to do everyday. This research will take about 3 years, and we will keep you updated in our blogs and newsletters on new information as we learn about it ourselves.

Don't overdo the protein focus

An important thing to remember in considering your food choices, is that too much of a good thing is usually not a good thing. So protein heavy diets (>2g/kg of weight for most people) that do not contain the other essential nutrients, and especially miss out on important carbohydrates and glycan fibres for our gut health, are detrimental to our health. Luckily, most whole foods are balanced across the range of nutrients that we need, and so eating a wholefood diet makes it easy. So once again in Hepburn style – don’t be fussy about it. Just be aware that a wholefood diet and one that includes protein rich plants is generally a good way to go for a life of ageing with grace.