Sustainability: Nutrition for Better Health & Aging

Eating to prevent cognitive decline: What you probably don’t know about protein intake

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In Japan, with its aging population, the number of individuals living with dementia is increasing every year. In 2012, according to data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, that number stood at approximately 4.6 million. By 2040, it is estimated to more than double to 9.5 million, and by 2060 it will reach roughly 11.5 million. Moreover, due to increased social isolation and lack of exercise because of COVID-19 restrictions, many health experts are concerned that the global pandemic will further contribute to rates of cognitive decline among the elderly.

Many people fear age-related changes in brain health. However, there are steps one can take to help support normal brain function. For example, scientists have long known that DHA, an essential fatty acid contained in fish, is essential for brain health. But recently other nutrients have also been linked to optimal function of this organ—protein, for example. Researchers studying the relationship between diet and the brain have found that people who consume optimal dietary protein are more likely to preserve the health of the brain during aging.

Protein intake declines with age—and what we can do about it

Are we getting enough protein? In 2020, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued dietary intake standards that included a daily recommended protein intake of 60g for adult men and 50g for adult women. According to the ministry’s own 2018 National Health and Nutrition Survey Report, average daily protein intake in Japan exceeds those recommended levels. A closer analysis, however, looking at protein intake across age groups, suggests that as much as 20% of men and 16% of women aged 65 to 74 may be getting insufficient protein. Moreover, that percentage appears to increase over time, with about 30% of Japanese men and women over 80 at risk of protein deficiency.

It is important, therefore, to be conscious of protein intake when planning menus. If you consume at least 20g of protein per meal, you will meet your daily recommended intake. However, in today’s busy world, many people have trouble finding time to eat a good breakfast every day. An analysis of the Japanese diet published in Geriatrics & Gerontology International in 2018 found that people tend to consume less protein at breakfast and lunch than at supper.

In addition to consuming more protein at breakfast and lunch, it is a good idea to review your daily diet and look for ways to achieve a more balanced and diverse diet. Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy and soy products are all abundant sources of protein. To get started, below is a recipe that makes it easy to get the protein you need to start your day right.

Milk Soup

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