The importance of protein to start the day

Back when I gave up eating meat almost a half-century ago, it was common to be asked how I got enough protein. I would reply that I ate dairy and soy products, nuts, and beans. I’d add that we need less protein than we might think — an opinion that came from researching vegetarianism. 

As meatlessness became more common, the question was asked less, and I never doubted that my protein intake was adequate. If anything, I’ve thought that I eat too much cheese and yogurt. But The Whole Body Reset program promoted by AARP would find at least my breakfast too low in protein.

My morning cereal or oatmeal with milk supplies about 11 or 12 grams of protein. According to The Whole Body Reset, a senior-focused book by AARP health editor Stephen Perrine, women should eat 25 grams of protein at each meal and men 30 grams. A breakfast high in protein, which takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, is especially important because it staves off hunger later in the day.

I’d known I should have protein at every meal but thought that the daily total was more important than protein timing. Maybe eating less than half the amount Perrine says is needed to start the day is why I’m always hungry, snack often, and have not been able to lose 10 pounds. I don’t believe in miracle diets, but increasing protein at breakfast is worth a try. Adding a half-cup of cottage cheese, which packs a walloping 14 grams of protein, gets me up to the 25-gram goal.

The government’s daily Recommended Dietary Allowance is .36 grams for every pound of body weight, which for many people is less than Perrine’s guideline. Older bodies process protein less efficiently and so need more than the RDA. 

I’m not going to bother counting protein grams at lunch, which is my main meal and changes every day, but I could drink a cup of milk to up the protein intake. At dinner, which is usually a salad and bread, a hard-boiled egg can go on the salad and peanut butter on the bread. 

Snacks are also an opportunity to add protein (cheese, yogurt, edamame, nuts, peanut butter, hummus), but in theory, I’ll want to snack less if I eat enough protein at meals. Protein keeps us feeling full longer. It also boosts metabolism and calorie burn, so I could lose weight. We’ll see. A future post will report how it’s going. 

It’s interesting that The Whole Body Reset prescribes generous protein portions at breakfast while adherents to a popular diet plan, intermittent fasting, usually skip breakfast. Intermittent fasting — eating only within an eight-hour window — usually means having only two meals a day. Other plans recommend consuming more healthy fats to prolong fullness. Whatever works; there isn’t one nutritional plan that suits everyone.



My past attempts to lose 10 or 15 pounds were half-hearted, but I have a good motivation now. Last week I mentioned that I’m limping due to buckling of my right knee. Losing weight would lessen pressure on the knee.

The rheumatologist I saw on Tuesday diagnosed bursitis and arthritis, and an x-ray showed bone loss and a possible cartilage lesion. An MRI is still to come. Physical therapy starts Friday. Since many of us have knee problems as we get older, in a future post I’ll share the exercises that the therapist recommends.

To maintain some aerobic conditioning while not able to walk as usual for exercise, I’ve been going into my building’s pool every day for 20 minutes or so of walking forward, backwards, and sideways, leg lifting, flutter kicking, treading water, marching, and a bit of swimming. I’m fortunate to have access to a pool for pain-free exercise. 

I’m also fortunate to have a balcony, where I’ve spent much of the last week and a half since the knee gave out. An ushering gig at Steppenwolf, a Chicago Greeter tour, and a visit to my mother in a nursing home in Joliet were regrettably canceled. As antsy as I get staying off my feet for days, it probably helped; walking gets easier every day. 


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  • I'm sorry to read about your injury. Best wishes for your physical therapy, and know that mine for one knee turned out longer than expected and for both knees. I'd be happy to discuss details privately if you'd like.

    Thanks for the protein ideas. I'm an omnivore, but I still feel sensitive to a lack of protein.

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