If you're navigating the midlife or menopause journey, chances are you're not getting enough protein. And that's a bigger deal than you might think.
As levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, you're not just dealing with symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, and mood swings. Your body also faces challenges in absorbing and holding onto protein.
The good news is that by upping your protein intake, you can tackle many of these issues head-on, reaping a range of health benefits in the process.
You can watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 136);
Health benefits of protein
Muscle Preservation and Strength: As we age, we naturally experience a decline in muscle mass and strength (3-8% per decade!), especially through menopause. Protein helps counteract this by providing the amino acids needed to preserve and build lean muscle tissue.
Weight Management: Protein is a big helper for midlife weight gain. Here's why;
- It has a high satiety value, meaning it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. This can help regulate appetite and prevent overeating.
- It can boost your metabolism; It has a higher thermic effect compared to carbohydrates and fats, meaning it requires more energy to digest and metabolise. This can result in more calories being burnt.
- It can help regulate your appetite – by reducing ghrelin (your hunger hormone) and increase peptide YY (PYY) that makes you feel full.
Blood Sugar Regulation: Protein-rich foods help stabilize blood sugar levels. They slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing spikes and crashes in blood sugar. This balanced blood sugar response contributes to overall hormonal balance.
Insulin Sensitivity: Protein consumption can enhance insulin sensitivity, which helps to promote hormone balance and reduces the risk of inflammation, insulin resistance and metabolic disorders.
Bone Health: It's a common misconception that only calcium and vitamin D matter when it comes to your bones – actually protein makes up a significant part of bone composition. This is especially crucial for post-menopausal women who are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Heart Health: Protein, particularly plant-based sources like legumes and nuts, can contribute to heart health by providing essential nutrients, including fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants, which can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Mental Wellbeing: Amino acids support the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation.
Immune System: Protein helps produce antibodies, enzymes, and immune system cells, strengthening the body's defences and reducing the risk of infections and illness.
How much do we need?
There's a huge amount of debate (and therefore confusion!) about how much protein we need to eat. And it also varies based on factors such as individual health, activity level, and muscle mass.
NHS guidelines say women should be aiming to eat about 45g a day. Other recommendations suggest around 0.8 g per kg of body weight per day. For example, if a woman over 50 weighs 70 kilograms (11 stone), her minimum requirement would be approximately 56g per day (70 kg x 0.8 g/kg = 56 g/day).
But some experts think we need to go much higher, especially if you are physically active or have specific health conditions.
The Framingham Heart Study Offspring studied protein intake over a 20 year period. They found that people who ate at least 90g a day had higher scores in grip strength, climbing stairs, and even walking half a mile. What's really interesting is that the women in the study seemed to benefit the most, making it clear that getting enough protein could be a game-changer for women looking to stay strong and agile as they age.
Dr Gabrielle Lyon and others recommend a minimum of 1g per lb of body weight. That would mean in the same woman, a daily requirement of 154g!
It's actually quite hard to consume that amount of protein in a day, and too much can increase the metabolic load on the kidneys, which have to work harder to filter out waste products like urea and ammonia. While this is generally not a concern for those with healthy kidneys, individuals with existing kidney issues should be cautious about consuming high amounts.
Typical protein content in some common foods
If you're wondering how much protein you're consuming and looking for easy ways to increase it, here are some approximate values for some common foods;
1 Egg – 7g
1 tbsp peanut butter – 7g
1 cup tofu – 30g
Chicken breast – 30g
Salmon fillet – 30g
Tin of tuna – 22g
Handful of almonds – 6g
1 cup of quinoa – 16g
1 cup broccoli – 2.5g
1/2 cup of chickpeas – 8g
1 cup of lentils – 18g
1 cup of pinto beans – 15g
Pot of plain soy yoghurt (150g)- 9g
Pot of Greek yoghurt (150g) – 14g
400ml glass of whole milk – 14g
100g of parmesan cheese – 35g
1 tbsp chia seeds – 3g
Protein shake – approx 20g
And don't forget some relatively high carb foods have good sources of protein too;
eg. 1 slice sourdough bread – 7g, 1 cup pasta – 8g.
Here are some ideas for a protein-rich breakfast to kickstart your day (each should come to around 20-30g);
- 2 eggs with 2 pieces free range bacon or smoked salmon, on sourdough or seeded toast
- 3 egg omelette with cheese, ham, broccoli, sprinkling of pumpkin/sunflower/flax seeds
- Full fat natural yoghurt with berries, nuts and seeds (or home made granola) – (try Biotiful's new Kefir protein pots for a protein boost!)
- Overnight oats or porridge – with milk, nuts, seeds and a dollop of Greek yoghurt, peanut butter or tahini. Top with berries for a hit of antioxidants.
- Protein smoothie with plant protein powder, nut butter, flax and chia seeds
Obviously add in your veg wherever possible – spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes – all great options to add in with eggs.
Remember, quality matters! Opt for complete proteins like fish, poultry, eggs, and plant-based options like legumes and tofu, organic where possible.
Individual needs are going to vary, so do contact us if you'd like some support.