By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

According to a recent study by the United States Dairy Export Council (USDEC), a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders, about 98 percent of the respondents in Thailand and Singapore are aiming for healthy aging, but only half are prepared for the process. 

To help encourage healthy aging, the USDEC held a webinar exploring the opportunities and proactive steps in bridging the large intention-action gap to reduce sarcopenia risks in the aged population of Southeast Asia. 

Sarcopenia is the age-related, progressive decline in muscle mass, strength and function that can impact adults as early as in their forties.

Dr. Satoshi Fujita, a professor from the College of Sport and Health Science of the Ritsumeikan University in Japan, shared during the webinar that a sufficient protein intake, spread throughout the day, can help protect against sarcopenia. 

He said that about 20 to 30 grams of protein, or 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, should be consumed at each of the three meals in a day. 

An issue in Southeast Asian cuisine is that it’s mostly carbohydrate-heavy and the protein intake throughout the day since the protein intake is low during breakfast and high during dinner, rather than being distributed evenly throughout the day, which then causes an imbalance in protein intake. 

Incorporating dairy protein, especially at breakfast, is a proactive and convenient step consumers can take today to fill the protein gap at breakfast. This also helps preserve muscle mass and function to in turn, remain active in senior years.

Fujita also stressed the importance of protein quality, particularly the essential amino acid composition as well as the vital role of the branched chain amino acid, leucine which is required for the growth and repair of muscle, skin, and bone. 

In USDEC’s study, it was agreed that protein is a key nutrient in building muscles, staying  active, and reducing muscle loss during aging. Such benefits can be found in consuming dairy protein. 

When it comes to the ratio of essential amino acids as a percentage of total protein, whey proteins lead with 52 percent compared to other animal and plant sources such as beef at 44 percent, soy at 38 percent, peas at 37 percent, and wheat at 30 percent. 

Similarly, whey protein ranks highest in terms of leucine content and has a neutral flavor profile, making it a good fit to incorporate into everyday foods, whether Western or Asian. 

Catering to taste as a way to optimize the protein diet 

Other than promoting good nutrition, another way to entice a balanced protein intake in Southeast Asian communities is to cater to their taste preference. 

“The versatility and functionality of dairy proteins allow for the creation of products and menus that represent the region’s cuisines while providing higher levels of quality protein. Incorporating ingredients such as whey and milk proteins into various rice and noodle dishes such as Pad Thai, Laksa, fried rice, curries and desserts will help balance daily protein intake and in the case of the elderly, help them achieve their nutritional needs with familiar dishes,” said Pauline Chan, Director, Food and Nutrition Specialists Pte Ltd, Singapore.

As Southeast Asia’s population begins to age, it is advantageous for the community to invest in new approaches on how to properly determine how much, what kind, and when to consume proteins for optimum results. In turn, USDEC also aims to meet the demands of the health-conscious consumer. 

For more information, visit ThinkUSAdairy.org