According to a study published online on Jan. 18 in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, eating more protein-rich foods like beef increases older obese adults’ physical function, helping them lose weight. These foods protect muscle mass, improve lower-body strength, and aids balance and walking speed in these people with functional limitations.

“Until recently, weight-loss regimens were not recommended for obese older adults due to concerns about further loss of muscle mass, especially in those who could not exercise,” says Duke University Medical Centre researcher Connie Bales. “While more recent research shows that engaging in exercise may preserve lean mass in obese older adults, we wanted to look at an intervention that would allow these individuals to start losing weight without exercise to account for functional impairments that may make regular exercise difficult.”

The study involved observing two groups of participants, one group that consumed high-quality lean protein with reduced calories or 1.2 grammes of protein per kilogramme of their body weight and another group that followed a diet with low protein or 0.8 grammes of protein per kilogramme of body weight. The higher protein diet consisted of 30 grammes of lean, high-quality protein such as beef, poultry, other lean meats, eggs and low-fat dairy foods, all of which were given during breakfast, lunch and dinner.

physical function

Protein intake improves physical function during weight loss. Photo from Pixabay/Wadams

The researchers observed that improvements in balance, lower body strength and walking speed were significantly higher in the group that ate protein-rich foods.

“High-quality protein like lean beef has unique benefits for health,” adds Shalene McNeill, a contractor to the study’s supporter, Beef Checkoff. “A substantial body of evidence shows the nutrients in beef, such as protein, can help satisfy hunger and maintain a healthy weight and build and maintain muscle. Beef is an important source of nutrients, including iron, zinc and B-vitamins, for optimal health.”

However, the researchers admit that further studies are needed to verify these findings. Nevertheless, they believe that this study shows that eating protein-rich foods can improve physical function in obese older adults with limited physical function but are trying to lose weight.