The right protein for the aging body

You can get protein from more than just meat, so what are the best types of protein for healthy aging? Learn more here.

Our body digests all protein into amino acids, whether the protein comes from an animal or a plant. So when considering our protein, we are considering its complement of amino acids, as well other nutrients and toxins that we ingest at the same time. These should be our main concern when looking for protein.

“Does it come with fat or calories?” Choose the leanest meat.

“Can I get it with added vitamin and fibre?” – Have plant proteins, or perhaps fish, for your omega-3 dose.

Types of protein for healthy aging

Plant proteins

Eat a broad range of plant foods ad libitum to support protein and aging:

  • A mixed vegetable meal including quinoa can provide all the protein of a steak with far less fat, and the added bonus of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Complete protein requirements are found in soy products, quinoa, spirulina, buckwheat and amaranth. Try substituting rice with quinoa as it is a high-protein grain with a nutty flavor similar to rice.
  • Tofu and soy are good vegetarian protein sources for the aging body with the added benefits of isoflavones. Use tofu in stir fries, curries and casseroles as an animal protein substitute.
  • While canned foods are not the first choice with most foods, canned legumes retain their nutritional value and are quicker and more convenient than preparing beans at home. Choose from lentils, kidney beans, chick peas, broad beans, baked beans (drain off the sauce), and mixed bean varieties and use them in salads, Mexican-style dishes, soups and stews.

Red meat

Eat red meat no more than twice a week (one serve = 100g or a piece the size of the palm of your hand).

  • Chose lean cuts and lean meats, such as kangaroo.
  • We can get the added bonus of essential fatty acids by choosing meat from grass-fed rather than grain-fed herds.
  • Don’t overcook your beef for flavor. Find another way to add taste.
  • Avoid cured, smoked and processed meats.


Eat up to 7 serves of fish per week (1 serve = 100-150g of fish or the size of your palm).

  • All fish are an excellent source of lean protein.
  • Cold water oily fish (such as salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines and to a lesser extent tuna) have the added bonus of essential fatty acids.
  • If the fish is farmed then it is generally higher in omega-6 and lower in omega-3 and the food fed to these fish may not be of the highest quality.
  • Beware long-living predatory and large fish, such as swordfish and shark, as they may accumulate toxins such as heavy metals, PCBs, furans and dioxins.
  • Canned tuna has less chemical residues than fresh tuna because the smaller fish are used in the canning process.
  • As omega-3’s are generally unstable in heat, we might lose health benefits by frying or overcooking fish.


Eat chicken no more than twice a week (one serve = 100g, one drumstick or half a small chicken breast).

  • Discard the skin and chose lean cuts.
  • We are after protein, not pesticides or antibiotics, so choose organic.
  • We can get the added bonus of essential fatty acids by choosing free range chickens rather than factory fed ones (modern farming methods have led to the development of chicken feed that produces an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (the ratio needs to be less than 4:1). 
  • Don’t overcook chicken.


Eat no more than 7 eggs per week to get your protein.

  • We can get the added bonus of essential fatty acids by choosing free range eggs rather than factory fed hens. Chickens that eat vegetable matter high in omega-3 fatty acids, insects, fresh green grass, fresh fruit and small amounts of corn, produce eggs that have an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1.5:1, whereas grain-fed chicken eggs have a ratio of 20:1.
  • Keep a few chickens in your own backyard. They are great consumers of kitchen scraps!


Drink no more than 1 cup per day.

  • Grass fed cows have much higher levels of essential fatty acids.
  • We are after calcium, but calcium can be found elsewhere.
  • Saturated fat is not our enemy. Low fat milk has less fat but also less fat-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamins A, D, E and K) and less available calcium. Instead, choose organic full fat milk.
  • Choose probiotic dairy products such as yoghurt to get the added bonus of intestinal health. But watch out: low fat generally means high sugar and high GI, so best to go for the regular plain yoghurt and add nuts, seeds and berries.


Milk Rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, goat’s milk.
Cow’s milk yoghurt Keffir, sheep’s milk yoghurt, soy milk yoghurt.
Ice cream Frozen fruit smoothie or sorbet.
Cream Coconut cream.
Cow’s milk cheese Sheep or goat’s milk cheese.
In general hard cheeses such as parmesan are a better alternative if we can tolerate cow’s milk.
Avoid soft cheeses.


Last Reviewed: 25-Jun-2017

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