protein digestion

From rare to well done, a recent study explores the impact of cooking conditions and protein digestion in older individuals.

The elderly tend to experience a significant loss of muscle mass due to the lower anabolic response to food intake.  A solution to improve the low anabolic response is to involve proteins that are relatively rapidly digested. These fast proteins encourage anabolism following a meal. Along with vitamin B12, zinc, and iron, meat plays a key role in supplying the body with proteins. Meat also provides digestible amino acids contributing to protein homeostasis. Previous research has found that minced meat has improved the protein digestion rate and anabolism in older individuals. Previous studies have also indicated that proteins found in meat are fast proteins, however, meat intake tends to be lower in the elderly.

To address this issue, a French study recently published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed the cooking conditions of meat and their effect on protein assimilation in the older population. The study involved a single-meal protocol used to determine the protein absorption rate from the meat. The data was analyzed to assess post-meal protein utilization in older individuals. A group of ten individuals, between the ages of 70 and 82 years, participated in the study. Each individual maintained a body mass index (BMI) between 22 and 282. The participants consumed either rare meat or fully cooked meat at two different times. Researchers used the process of intravenous fusion to quantify leucine levels both before and after the meal. Meat protein absorption was subsequently recorded as an indicator of protein digestion.

After meals, the researchers found a decrease in the plasma concentration of amino acids. The contribution of the amino acid leucine to the plasma from the meat was relatively lower in rare meat as opposed to fully cooked meat, and a similar trend was identified for meat nitrogen as well. As a result, consumption of rare meat exhibited an overall lower post-meal protein synthesis in the body when compared to the consumption of fully cooked meat.

The results suggested that protein assimilation in older adults is greater when consuming fully cooked meat as opposed to consuming rare meat. This information is valuable for elderly patients facing conditions such as sarcopenia, which results in a significant loss of muscle mass. This may also encourage dieticians to take into account the style of cooking along with the type of diet itself when dealing with older individuals. With further studies confirming these findings, raising awareness of fully cooked meat in high concentration areas of the target population, like seniors’ homes, may improve overall health.

Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc

Reference: Buffière C, Gaudichon C, Hafnaoui N, Migné C, Scislowsky V, Khodorova N, Mosoni L, Blot A, Boirie Y, Dardevet D, et al. In the elderly, meat protein assimilation from rare meat is lower than that from meat that is well done. Am J ClinNutr. 2017 Sep 13. pii: ajcn158113. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.158113.

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