Even the healthiest people are not exempt from the physical consequences that old age brings, but the right diet may allow you to stay healthier for longer. New research examines how high plant protein consumption among China’s older population affects muscle mass as the body grows older, noting that while Western countries have only recently added more plant protein sources to their diets, plant-based diets are more common in Eastern regions.
The researchers collected data over three days from 4,826 participants over 60 years old. The data was drawn from the China Health and Nutrition Survey from 2018 and showed that two-thirds of total protein consumed by participants originated from plant-based foods. The study revealed that the participants that consumed the most protein in general –– specifically plant protein –– showed higher muscle mass. In comparison, the researchers found no significant link between animal protein and muscle mass.
During the study, the researcher noticed that the population studied consumed on average less than 20 grams of protein per meal. The recommended amount of protein is typically suggested to be between 25 to 40 grams per meal.
Despite needing additional research, the preliminary study found that the higher plant protein intakes –– 68 grams for females and 78 grams for males –– could potentially help prevent muscle loss into old age.
Diet for Healthy Muscle Mass
The study authors explained that animal protein provides individuals with significant levels of protein and all essential amino acids, but this consumption comes with a price. Animal protein typically contains high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. The study emphasized that the traditional Chinese diet has a much higher variation between plant and animal proteins that lends to a healthier diet.
“The traditional Chinese type of diet is [characterized] by large amounts of cereals and vegetables. Thus, plant protein intake contributed more to the total dietary protein intake than animal protein intake,” the authors stated. “It is possible that the ingestion of greater amounts of vegetable-source proteins may be [able to] achieve the same anabolic response evoked by smaller quantities of animal-source proteins. “To enhance the nutritional quality, the Chinese Nutrition Society suggests people consume cereals and legumes together,” the authors advised.
The study aimed to understand how plant protein could help prevent a major condition common among older individuals, sarcopenia –– a condition of muscle loss causing a lower quality of life and reduced function. The authors noted that more research is needed due to several limitations, which did not allow them to clearly determine causal relationships. For example, the lack of association between animal protein and muscle mass could be due to the sample population’s generally higher plant protein consumption.
The authors continued by adding that “ascorbic acid found in vegetables and fruits can enhance plant protein absorption.”
Bone Density and Plant Protein
Muscle mass is a major worry for those reaching old age, and it is often accompanied by losing bone density. But this June, a new study found that a plant-based diet reduces the indicators of bone frailty by up to 42 percent in women over 60.
The study examined how animal, dairy, and plant protein helped prevent frailty in older individuals. The study found that even substituting 5 percent of animal-based protein with plant protein was associated with bone-strengthening benefits.
Building Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet
This January, one study set out to debunk myths that plant-based diets would not allow individuals to build muscle as well as animal protein. The study showed that plant-based protein when supplemented with soy can build muscle mass with the same efficacy as animal-based diets.
“A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet (plant-based whole foods plus soy protein isolate supplementation) is no different than a protein-matched mixed diet (mixed whole foods plus whey protein supplementation) in supporting muscle strength and mass accrual, suggesting that protein source does not affect resistance training-induced adaptations in untrained young men consuming adequate amounts of protein,” the researchers wrote at the time.
Similarly, potato protein shows to have the same muscle-building effects as animal protein, according to research published in June. The study found that potato consumption caused near-equivalent levels of muscle protein synthesis as milk consumption, dispelling worries that plant-based proteins are inadequate for muscle building or maintaining strength.
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