Dietitian Musfirah Albakri from SingHealth Community Hospitals (SCH), a member of the SingHealth group, explains in this second of a six-part series on nutrition for healthy ageing.

Proteins are essential for our body’s tissues, especially for the elderly.

As we age, we become less active and our body’s ability to absorb and utilise nutrients also becomes less efficient. One very essential nutrient that our body requires to stay healthy (and many may be unaware of) are proteins.

Many seniors tend to shy away from protein such as red meat thinking it is unhealthy.

"It has been established that protein is an important component of a balanced diet. Do limit intake of processed red meats and seafood such as sausages, luncheon meat, cold cuts and fish balls as they are high in sodium and preservatives. Instead, opt for fresh food such as lean meat and poultry, fresh fish and tofu," shared Dietitian Musfirah Albakri.

* If you have chronic kidney disease, do seek advice from your doctor and dietitian as protein requirements may be different for you.

What are proteins?

Proteins are made up of amino acids. The amino acids can be categorised into two groups:

  • Essential
    It is derived from our diet as the body does not produce it.
  • Non-essential
    It can be produced by the body.

Proteins are vital nutrients as they provide the building blocks for cells, enzymes and other structural components in the body such as muscles, skin and tendons.

What is the daily recommended amount of protein seniors need?

According to Health Promotion Board (HPB), the amount of protein you need varies according to age:

​Age Range

​Protein required (in grams)

​Recommended protein intake

​50 years old and above

About 1.2g per kilogram of body weight

​E.g. Older adult who weighs 62.5kg would need

62.5*1.2g protein = 75g protein per day or

75/3 = about 25g per meal

​18 - 49 years old

About 0.8g per kilogram of body weght

​E.g. Younger adult who weighs 75kg would need

75*0.8g protein = 60g protein per day or

60/3 = about 20g per meal

Individual intake may vary according to their medical conditions.   

Proteins help seniors to maintain their muscle mass, aid in wound healing and recovery from illness, as well as supports their overall function.

A good guide on a balanced diet to follow is the HPB's "My Healthy Plate".

Examples of low-fat, high-protein foods

  • Fish

  • Tofu

  • Lean meats/poultry (remove the skin and fats)

  • Low-fat dairy

Protein amount in everyday foods

​60g cooked poultry/fish/meat (beef/pork/mutton)


​1 egg


​250ml milk


​2 slices (30g) cheddar cheese


​1/2 piece silken tofu (150g)


Difference between animal and plant-based proteins

Dietary proteins can be found in both animal and plant sources. Animal sources like eggs, most meats and dairy products - milk, yoghurt and cheese - are often labelled as high biological value (HBV) proteins as they contain an adequate amount of essential amino acids that are readily digested by our bodies.

Plant based soy proteins are also a source of HBV proteins. However, other plant based sources such as legumes, grains, nuts and seeds may not contain a full set of amino acids and are then labeled as low biological value protein (LBV) sources. Grains also contain some proteins but this does not mean vegetarians will not be able to obtain all the essential amino acids.

Different sources of plant-based protein provide different amino acids, therefore mixing a variety of sources such as rice and lentils can lead to adequate intake.

What happens when an elderly lacks protein?

As we age, we will gradually experience loss of muscles, strength and functions which is known as sarcopenia. Inadequate protein intake can cause this decline to progress quicker.

The link between protein and exercise

Having proteins followed by exercises helps to maintain muscle function. Do try to have a protein source at each meal to meet your daily requirements,” shared Musfirah.

Embrace your golden years: Nutrition for the elderly

Eating right and staying active are essential especially when we grow older. As we age, our nutrition needs may differ due to a variety of changes in the body which may include a lowered efficiency in utilizing nutrients.

Nutrition is an important element of health and understanding what constitutes good nutrition helps us to maintain or improve our well-being.

Join us in this six-part series where Dietitian Musfirah Albakri from SCH shares the benefits of various nutrients and sources for the elderly!

How does potassium benefit seniors and what everyday foods contain it? Click here to find out.

1) Mariotti F, Gardner CD. Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets-A Review. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 4;11(11):2661. doi: 10.3390/nu11112661. PMID: 31690027; PMCID: PMC6893534.

2) Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients. 2016 Jun 8;8(6):359. doi: 10.3390/nu8060359. PMID: 27338461; PMCID: PMC4924200.

3) Deutz NE, Bauer JM, Barazzoni R, Biolo G, Boirie Y, Bosy-Westphal A, Cederholm T, Cruz-Jentoft A, Krznariç Z, Nair KS, Singer P, Teta D, Tipton K, Calder PC. Protein intake and exercise for optimal muscle function with aging: recommendations from the ESPEN Expert Group. Clin Nutr. 2014 Dec;33(6):929-36. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2014.04.007. Epub 2014 Apr 24. PMID: 24814383; PMCID: PMC4208946.


Ref: J22

Plus, check out other articles on healthy ageing:

Nutritional Needs for the Elderly

5 Easy Ways Seniors Can Stay Healthy

Best Exercises for Seniors

Nutrition and Diet Tips for Seniors

Why Seniors Need to Be Vaccinated

How to Prevent Falls in the Elderly