Between the age of 65 and 70 physiological changes occur in older adults which result in the food being digested more slowly and not as well as when they were younger. Older adults need food that has been adapted to accommodate these changes.
Many older adults experience a loss of appetite. Problems with chewing and swallowing are also common. This leads to poor nutrient uptake – and an increased need for adapted food.
“Protein is a good example. Healthy older adults are advised to eat more protein than younger people in order to maintain their muscle mass. At the same time, the composition of protein foods can affect their digestion. In other words, we must ensure that older adults obtain protein in a form that is easily digested and meet the specific needs that arise during ageing.” explains Senior Researcher Øydis Ueland at Nofima.
This can be done by personalising their food.
What is personalised food?
Personalised food is not quite the same as personalised nutrition which is more individualised. Personalised food is food adapted to suit larger groups affected by the same physiological challenges. Older adults are one example of such a group, and over the course of the next few decades this group will increase.
Although older adults may have very different needs, they still have some commonalities as a result of normal aging processes, and they need food that has been tailored to overcome the age-related physiological changes.
Studying nutrients in artificial gastrointestinal models
How well a food is digested is important for how accessible its nutrients are to the body and muscles. This is called bioavailability. When food is poorly digested, the uptake of nutrients in the small intestine is reduced and consequently more nutrients travel all the way to the colon.
Nofima researchers have established digestion models for both adults and older adults. These are being used to study the bioaccessibility of proteins in raw materials and when raw materials are processed in different ways.
We have seen that proteins from different sources may be digested differently in adults and older adults,” says Senior Researcher Bente Kirkhus. In order for the proteins to help maintain muscle mass and function, they must be broken down to peptides and amino acids during digestion to be absorbed in the small intestine. It is therefore important to develop personalised food for older adults which contains proteins that are easy to digest. The proteins in residual chicken and fish raw materials seem very promising in this context.
“Protein powders made from these residual raw materials could become an important health component for enriching personalised food for the elderly,” says Jan Thomas Rosnes, Senior Researcher at Nofima.
The texture affects both the dining experience and how much we eat
Jan Thomas has conducted research on different technologies suitable for preserving and/or adapting the taste, texture and nutrients in different foods.
“Processing plays a key role in the development of personalised food, because the choice of processing technology determines whether or not it is possible to modify raw materials and ingredients so that they acquire special functional, nutritional and sensory properties,” he explains.
For older adults, the impaired digestion which occurs with age can contribute to them feeling full earlier than they perhaps should. To help the digestion processes, it would also be an advantage if the food did not need to be chewed for so long, i.e. a loose texture would be better than a hard texture.