We, as an industry, know the ageing population offers opportunities for health food companies but the exact needs and wants of this audience are less clear-cut.
Independent registered nutritionist Dr Wyness has given her recommendations as to how food companies can genuinely support this audience's health needs through food innovations.
Ramp up the Nutrients
Wyness points out that older adults tend not to require as many calories due to a decrease in activity and changes in body composition and this means the foods they eat must be nutrient-rich, with an emphasis on a few key nutrients.
"There are some nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D, that are absorbed less effectively as we get older, and for some nutrients there is an increased need to support an ageing body," states Wyness.
"Nutrients that are often found to be low in adults aged over 65 include vitamin A, vitamin B2, selenium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Poor diets among low-income populations show even more pronounced nutrition imbalances."
Another concern of Wyness' is intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) which are consumed in amounts far below the recommended 450mg per day (advised by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition).
"The benefits of these long-chain fatty acids include helping prevent cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, as well as having a role in eye health and immune function," she adds.
"Emerging evidence also suggests these fatty acids have beneficial impacts on diabetes and inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis."
As with with wider population, the fibre intake among older adults, especially women, falls below the 30g a day recommendation. Only 9% of men and 4% of women aged 65+ years meet the fibre recommendations, according to PHE’s 2018 National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
However, Wyness points out that the average intake of saturated fats and free sugars exceeds the guidelines for adults aged 65-74 years so its important to keep these low in foods aimed at this age group.
Pack a punch with protein
Whilst senior shoppers are becoming more aware of the fact protein is important as we age as it helps maintain muscle mass and strength, Wyness argues that most people in this demographic are consuming far less than they need without realising it.
"Current dietary recommendations for intake may not actually be enough to fulfil this function in older adults. Between the ages of 40 and 80, humans lose around 30-50% of muscle mass, so those aged over 40 can definitely benefit from increased protein."
Wyness adds that the benefits of this nutrient could be bolstered if intake is spread across the day. She therefore suggests that companies try to get protein into breakfasts - a meal that's traditionally more carbohydrate-based.
"Examples of some higher protein breakfast foods, such as breads, cereals and yoghurts, are beginning to appear on shelves already, although there is scope for more."
Tailor the taste
As sense of smell and taste decline with age, and the use of medications can impact taste sensitivity, Wyness says the over 60's can experience a decrease in appetite and reduced interest in food.
The reduced perception of flavour can lead to temptation to add more salt and sugar so Wyness suggests companies boost the eating experience with herbs and spices as well as vibrant colours and enjoyable textures in order to help consumers steer clear of unhealthy additions.
She adds that mint, curcumin, paprika and seaweed seasoning are some healthy yet effective options.
This article was originally published on foodspark.com, a digital subscription service designed to inspire and inform innovation across the food industry.
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