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5 Sources of Protein You Never Knew You Needed

Center Communities of Brookline residents at the Brookline Farmer's Market

Popeye, it seems, has been right all along. If you want to stay “strong to the finish,” you have to eat your spinach. Or at least some other types of protein-rich foods.

As we age, lean muscle mass begins to decline, but this trend can be significantly slowed with regular exercise and a generous amount of protein heavy meals. A recent study by Dr. Kelsey Mangano of Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research has shown that older adults with considerably high protein intakes have more muscle mass and greater functional strength than those who consume less protein on average.

Dr. Mangano’s research also demonstrated another important fact: that protein from plant-based sources is just as beneficial for overall strength as protein from meat or dairy. In order to maintain your strength and muscle mass into ripe old age, you don’t have to choke down chalky protein shakes or pile on the grilled chicken. Body beneficial protein can be found in many plant-based sources - like cooked spinach. A one cup serving can add 5 grams of protein to your plate, the most of any leafy green. While 5 grams is not a huge amount, when coupled with other protein rich foods, it can help catapult you forward on your quest toward the recommended 50 grams of protein per day. (Tip: For an optimum protein punch, choose cooked spinach over raw).

Not into spinach? No problem. There are plenty of other plant-based foods ready to help you reach your protein goals. So pull out your grocery list and be sure to jot down our top five little known plant-based protein sources:

1)     Edamame – Our favorite hor d’oeuvres is not only a healthy amuse-bouche, but also one protein packed pod. One cup of cooked edamame provides 18 grams of protein.

2)     Navy Beans – Take pride Beantowners, one cup of cooked navy beans – often found in our beloved Boston Baked Beans – yields 15 grams of protein.

3)     Quinoa – It’s okay if you can’t pronounce it, just make sure you’re piling it high. One cooked cup of this gluten-free grain (technically a seed) brings an additional 7-9 grams of protein to your plate.

4)     Chia Seeds – Sing it with me now, “cha-cha-chia!” The Chia seed is not just remarkable for its ability to sprout weird green hair on your favorite 80’s Chia Pet; it’s also a plentiful source of protein. You can find 4 grams of protein in only two tablespoons.

5)     Nuts – It’s no tough nut to crack. Just by including one serving of nuts - such as walnuts, almonds, cashews or others - you can add 7-9 grams of protein to your daily intake.

Discover our Current Nutritional Epidemiology Research Projects
The Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) at Hebrew SeniorLife seeks to improve the lives of seniors through focused, applied research in the fields of nutrition, falls and mobility, the aging brain and biostatics, the musculoskeletal system and palliative care. We challenge assumptions about aging and replace them with new, evidence-based realities founded on the results of rigorous scientific enquiry.
Learn more about our ongoing nutritional research projects at IFAR

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Great suggestions for increasing protein intake. Wish they served more such protein in our meals at Orchard Cove!
Thank you for commenting. We will pass your feedback along to the Orchard Cove team!
I'm interested in how proper nutrition can prevent some age related diseases and how eating better can add to health and happiness in life. :)
I'm geriatric nurse practitioner in Hawaii and get a lot of questions from non-patients about nutrition in aging. They often ask about what supplements to take. I prefer to tell them what nutritious foods they should be eating and why unless there is clear evidence that a supplement has nutritional benefit.
I am the Dining Services manager for a large senior living corporation and very interested in receiving all the information I can get concerning health and nutrition for senior living!

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