A third of Wicklow adults believe they either do not eat enough protein, or are unaware if they are consuming the required amount in their diet, a new national survey has found.
The research, conducted among 1,000 people over-18 by iReach, paid particular attention to protein in adult diets.
It found that in Wicklow, 32% believe they either do not eat enough protein or are unaware if they are meeting dietary guidelines.
Consumption of protein can ward against and reverse the age-related degenerative condition Sarcopenia – a progressive skeletal muscle disorder involving accelerated loss of muscle mass and function linked to falls, functional decline, frailty and mortality.
After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average, limiting their ability to perform many routine activities.
The findings come amid warnings from a leading dietician of the prevalence of Sarcopenia, which can also occur in mid-life.
Nationally, a total of 71% of those aged 18-24 believe they eat enough protein, compared to just 55% of those over-40, suggesting a better awareness of dietary requirements among the young, perhaps linked to fitness and social media cultures.
Noreen Roche, who has more than 20 years’ experience working with multiple sports teams at the highest level, stressed that life-long, high-quality protein intake is a key factor in maintaining good health amongst the older and middle-aged population.
Contrary to dietary advice for middle-aged and older people that the body’s protein requirements increase with age, 50% of over-55s nationally think they should eat the same amount of protein as they get older.
Almost half (49%) of all adults surveyed across the country believe they should eat the same amount of protein as they age, despite Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommendations that older adults should consume protein in at least two meals a day.
The survey finds that 30% of over-40s throughout Ireland are unaware their age cohort will begin to lose muscle mass and strength as they get older.
Despite a typical portion size of tinned tuna having one of the highest level of protein, and the amino acid leucine, which can help ward against Sarcopenia, meat (25%) and eggs (21%) are mistakenly identified as the best sources of protein across all age-ranges, with only 13% believing fish to be the best source.
The survey was commissioned by John West to highlight Sarcopenia and the role of natural protein in fish in preventing and reversing it.
Ms Roche says life-long, high-quality protein intake and regular exercise ward against Sarcopenia.
And the consumption of tuna is particularly beneficial as it has a higher content of leucine, the essential amino acid critically important to muscle maintenance.
“Adequate protein intake throughout all life stages is essential for health, as proteins are the building blocks within the body,” said Ms Roche.
“A low intake of protein will not maintain optimal muscle mass and function, which decline as we get older.
“Therefore, regular consumption of high quality proteins like tinned tuna, fish, eggs etc are important to ensure we protect against muscle loss as we age.
“There is a need for education and awareness from age 40 upwards on increasing protein intake as people age – and the need to eat it across all meals.”