Ageing adults often undertake lifestyle changes due to a decline in physical capacities and changes in psychological state. This may result in a decrease of physical activities and reduced dietary intake. Managing weight is important, as a loss of weight in the elderly can contribute to conditions such as sarcopenia or osteoporosis.
So, it is essential to provide food products designed for elderly people to ensure that their dietary intake remains adequate, which therefore allows them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Why develop specialised products?
Many studies demonstrate that dietary intake tends to decrease with age. Between 20 and 80 years old, energy intake is estimated to decrease about 600 and 1,300kcal, respectively, for women and men. This represents an average energy intake reduction of up to 50%. Such a decrease is not without consequences for the body: reduced cognitive and physical capacities, increased fatigue, weakening of the immune system, etc. Indeed, a 2018 meta-analysis showed that the quality of life of older adults was directly associated to their eating habits.1
Consequently, dietary supplements can be necessary in order to better cover energy need of elderly people. Three types of products exist:
- Nutritional supplements can be useful to provide vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients such as omega-3. The main disadvantage of these is that they can be difficult to swallow for some elderly people, especially those with dysphagia (swallowing difficulties). Moreover, these products may be considered to be drugs by elderly people, which may contribute to aversion.
- Functional foods are those that appear to be similar to conventional foods, but that contain one or more added beneficial nutrients.These foods often contain a concentrate of essential nutrients, and could be presented as products such as a dairy beverage, dessert cream or even soup.
- Finger-food products are traditional foods but with a shape and consistency that allows them to be eaten with fingers. These foods will usually be a concentrate of energy and essential nutrients. The advantage of these products is the fact that they are simple to eat for older adults with difficulties using utensils (such as patients with Parkinson’s disease). Moreover, they can be easily added in a dish or be consumed at any time of the day without necessarily being at the dinner table.
Determining the critical nutrients
Energy intake of elderly people is often insufficient. Consequently, a product intended for this population could be concentrated in energy. It could be richer in fats, because lipid is the most energetic nutrient; carbohydrates and proteins represent approximately 4kcal/g while lipids represent 9kcal/g. Concerning the quality of these lipids, it would be ideal to maximize omega-3 since it is an essential fatty acid that is too little present in the traditional diet. Various epidemiological studies have shown that increased consumption of omega-3 would reduce the risk of stroke as well as cognitive declines. 2 3 4
Proteins are also extremely important for elderly people because they help maintain bone and muscle mass integrity. This allows this population to better preserve their physical capacities.
With age, anabolicresistance can occur. In other words, a small quantity of proteins could not be enough to stimulate muscular synthesis. However, it is still possible to counterbalance the phenomenon by providing a large quantity of essential amino acids, especially leucine, the most important amino acid to enhance anabolism.
Using the emotional cue, textures
A 2006 study shows that elderly people’s favorite dishes seem to be foods they are familiar with, with a traditional way of preparation.5 So, forget elaborate methods of preparation and exotic foods. It Is important to use what they know well and appreciate.
Therefore, flavourings should always remain simple: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee … Furthermore, sensory abilities often decrease with age. As taste and smell may weaken, it seems necessary to raise the flavours of foods and to propose stronger aromas than those traditionally used.
In addition to the nutrition and hedonic aspect, these products must have adapted shape and texture. Indeed, elderly people can have certain diseases such as dysphagia or xerostomia (oral dryness). That is why product should have a particular texture.
It can be a good idea to make products in small portion form so that they can be eaten without cutlery. To this extent, finger-food products can be very interesting.
1. Thara Govindaraju et al., “Dietary Patterns and Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Systematic Review,” Nutrients 10, no. 8 (July 26, 2018), https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10080971
2. Riccardo Calvani et al., “Current Nutritional Recommendations and Novel Dietary Strategies to Manage Sarcopenia,” The Journal of Frailty & Aging 2, no. 1 (2013): 38–53.
3. Institute of Medicine (US) Food Forum, Nutrition Concerns for Aging Populations, Providing Healthy and Safe Foods As We Age: Workshop Summary (National Academies Press (US), 2010), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK51837/
4. Natalia Ubeda, María Achón, and Gregorio Varela-Moreiras, “Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the Elderly,” The British Journal of Nutrition 107 Suppl 2 (June 2012): 3, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512001535
5. M. Laureati et al., “Sensory Acceptability of Traditional Food Preparations by Elderly People,” Food Quality and Preference, The First European Conference on Sensory Science of Food and Beverages: “A Sense of Identity,” 17, no. 1 (January 1, 2006): 43–52, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2005.08.002