Elderly may need to boost daily protein intake

27 May 2017

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein may not be sufficient for the elderly or critically ill, researchers claim.

The RDA guidelines printed on labels of processed foods are put together by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine and are set to meet the requirements of 97.5 per cent of the healthy individuals older than 19 years.

The RDA guidelines found on nutrition labels on food were set in 1968, and the ones used by researchers and professionals were set in 2003, with researcher Stuart Phillips of McMaster University in Canada now claiming that both of these values do not do justice to the protein needs of the elderly or very sick.

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"A big disservice is being done. The prescribed 0.8 g/kg/day just isn't enough protein for the elderly and people with a clinical condition. This shouldn't be communicated as what is 'allowed' or even 'recommended' to eat," he said.

In his review, Phillips points out that the quality of proteins should be considered when setting the RDA guidelines and recommending protein supplements. He also argues that there should be a stronger focus on leucine; an amino acid and building block for proteins. The elderly have a higher need for leucine to build muscle proteins, and milk-based proteins such as milk and whey can be a good source for this.

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"I think it's clear we need some longer-term clinical trials with older people on higher protein intakes. These trials need to consist of around 400 - 500 people," added Phillips.

The full review has been published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

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