Bite-sized nutrition and hydration product development for seniors

Tuesday, 04 June, 2024

Bite-sized nutrition and hydration product development for seniors

Food technology is being explored to help address health issues faced by many older people, such as dysphagia and dehydration, as the current options available are not always suitable.

Dehydration is one of the main problems faced by many older people due to psychological, cognitive and swallowing disorders affecting their ability to eat and drink independently. Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) scientists are developing a food product to reduce the risk of dehydration and fatal choking, with the product expected to be available to seniors soon.

Daiva Leskauskaitė, a professor at KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology, said: “This innovation is a one-bite-sized food product coated with a membrane that easily dissolves in the mouth but is difficult to break down with fingers.”

Image credit: KTU.

Composed of 95% water and enriched with vitamins D, C, B9 and B12, as well as iron, selenium and zinc, the product will meet the recommended intake of minerals and vitamins for the elderly.

In addition, the product was technologically developed so that it would ensure the full nutrient supply: “The product will have controlled release of micro-components during digestion. The highest amount will be released in the small intestine, which will lead to better absorption of the nutrients,” Leskauskaitė said.

The process of food product development and improvement is still ongoing, but the professor of the KTU Department of Food Science and Technology said that a lot has already been done.

“The composition of biopolymers used to structure water-rich foods and the possibility of adding vitamins and minerals to the product have been identified. The stability of these components during the technological process was evaluated, and a ball-shaped one-bite product was developed,” Leskauskaitė said.

A very important stage of the research waits ahead — testing the acceptability of the new products among the elderly population of nursing homes. The results of the study will be used to determine the taste, aroma and colour of the products.

“At the same time, we will conduct tests to check the release of the vitamins and minerals in the small intestine. The results will allow us to evaluate the efficiency of the bioavailability of the added micro-components in the bodies of the elderly,” Leskauskaitė added.

For this research, the scientists will use the SHIME (the simulator of the human intestinal microbial ecosystem) model. It is designed for complex modelling of physiological, chemical and microbiological properties of the digestive tract. This is one of the university’s most representative in vitro technologies, allowing tests to be carried out in a test tube rather than in a living organism.

The final part of the project will be the production of a pilot batch, during which the packaging of the products will be evaluated and the final adjustments to the technological parameters will be made.

Finger food for seniors

Nutritionists and geriatricians argue that food specially formulated for eating with fingers, easily grasped and transported from the plate to the mouth, can benefit elderly people with cognitive impairment by helping reduce dehydration and improve their nutrient intake.

Currently available products on the market, that can be used to reduce dehydration and the risk of fatal choking and aspiration pneumonia in the elderly, include a range of thickened, texture-modified drinks.

While this is an appropriate therapeutic strategy to reduce the risk of choking in dysphagia patients, many studies have shown that the use of thickened fluids alone does not have a significant effect on the increase in water levels. Moreover, the texture is not acceptable for all patients.

“No specialised nutritional supplements for people with swallowing problems exist in Lithuania, so a new product that is more advanced in terms of both usefulness and attractiveness is particularly needed.” Leskauskaitė said.

Image credit: KTU.

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