Tasty and nutritious food for senior citizens
As a person ages, their appetite and physical capacity to eat can diminish. To prevent malnutrition among senior citizens and make eating a pleasure for them, an EU-funded project has developed tasty fruit- and vegetable-based foods adapted to their health needs.
© Mirko #111423493 2019, source:stock.adobe.com
The percentage of Europeans aged 65 and over is projected to increase from around 17 % to nearly 30 % by 2060. Malnutrition is a particular problem among older people and as much of an issue for European healthcare systems as obesity.
To promote healthy ageing, the EU-funded OPTIFEL project has created tasty and nutritious foods, taking account of seniors’ needs, preferences and ability to chew and distinguish between flavours. The project also considered portion sizes, the ease of opening the food packaging, the preparation skills required and the environmental impacts of distribution.
The resulting products, which are largely based on apples or carrots, have the potential to improve seniors’ quality of life, make eating a pleasure and enable them to retain their personal autonomy for longer, says project coordinator Catherine Renard of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.
‘OPTIFEL has demonstrated that it is possible to formulate appetising food products adapted to seniors’ nutritional needs,’ Renard says. ‘Provided the right recipes are chosen, plant protein can be added to increase the nutritional value of vegetable dishes, without affecting taste. The project took account of seniors’ preferences as regards basic ingredients, but we suggest using other ingredients as well, because variety is needed both from a sensory and a nutritional viewpoint.’
Preferences and capabilities
The project initially defined some 30 food concepts and chose the best eight to develop using traditional and innovative processing methods. Following laboratory testing and input from seniors living independently, recipes were trialled in real-life conditions.
The tests involved elderly people living at home and eating at community facilities, those living at home and getting prepared meals delivered to them by volunteer services such as ‘meals on wheels’ and those living in nursing homes.
Savoury foods were enriched with plant proteins, providing a consistent texture, while vitamins, minerals and fibre were added to sweet foodstuffs. Purées and vegetable-based sauces were identified as a particularly convenient means of enriching diets.
A food preference survey involving more than 400 people and 45 caterers made it possible to establish a preference scale for use in menu planning. Experiments with a further 200 seniors showed a correlation between hand-grip and mastication strength, which, together with dental information, can help predict eating capability.
Focus groups identified optimal packaging types and the maximum acceptable force needed to open them. The project also designed ways of measuring the required force to open the packaging.
The team assessed the impact of temperature changes and storage and re-heating conditions on nutritional value and safety. These studies highlighted the need to keep the food at the correct storage temperature along the supply chain.
The researchers also adjusted the nutritional values per portion based on daily allowance recommendations from across Europe. Dietary deficiency data were used to calculate the level of fortification needed to ensure elderly people were getting the required nutrients. This work led to creation of tools, including a calculator to help carers assess a person’s particular nutrient needs.
The food products are now being launched onto the market.
‘Two of the partners are commercialising products devised within OPTIFEL and we have guidelines for design of food for seniors available on the web,’ says Renard. ‘A number of partners are also participating in ongoing projects addressing food groups other than fruit and vegetables.’
In addition, OPTIFEL has provided training for researchers, with five PhDs completed and two people doing post-doctoral study within the project.