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Marcie RittenhouseMuscle mass loss is a common problem in elders, particularly when they are sedentary or bedbound. To keep older people strong, experts recommend that they increase their daily protein to 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.

“We know that older people need protein, but it can be challenging to get them to eat traditional protein sources, such as meat, because they can’t chew it or cut it,” says Marcie Rittenhouse, a consultant dietitian at the LIFE/PACE program.

If patients can’t or won’t eat meat, there are options. Egg whites, cheese, nuts (or peanut butter), chickpeas, tofu, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and fish are all good sources of protein, and they have the advantage of being easier to chew and swallow, she says. They also present many choices for vegetarians.

Another option is to sprinkle protein powder on food and in drinks. “Protein is so important to elders that the care team and family members need to watch residents to make sure they are getting enough of it. If they don’t want meat, give them cheese or eggs. If they don’t like fish, let them have peanut butter or yogurt,” says David Smith, MD, president of Geriatric Consultants.

“Let them eat what they want but make a concerted effort to get enough protein in them every day.”​