The 50 plus aging population in the Asia Pacific region has been growing, due to increasing life expectancy and decreasing birth rates. This population, is aware of the importance of health and nutrition, and aims to remain youthful, healthy and energetic for as long as they can. Hence, the food industry needs to develop health food innovations, to meet these changing needs. Following are 5 nutrition considerations, to help guide the development of appropriate food innovations for the 50-plus aging population:
1. Aging population needs low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar and low salt food
With age, metabolic rate drops and calorie requirement decreases. With a decrease in calorie requirement, it is of essence that the food and drink you manufacture is low in sugar, fat and calories. Low sugar, low salt, and low fat, especially saturated fat, is also of essence to help older individuals maintain a healthy diet, and keep overweight, obesity and chronic diseases at bay
2. Aging population needs moderate protein
A moderate level of protein is important, to prevent muscle loss which occurs with age, and when calorie and protein intake is limited. Food innovations made with dairy and / or bean based protein make for balanced protein options.
3. Reduce risk of chronic diseases with omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acid intake is usually limited in a standard diet. The key reason for this, is that intake of fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts, which are the main sources of omega-3 fatty acids, are not consumed daily. As omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce risk of cardiovascular events, diabetes and cognitive decline, a formulation with bio-available omega-3 fatty acids is essential for an aging population!
4. Fiber deficiency is likely in the elderly
Lower food intake results in a decrease in fiber intake. This is a challenge, as dietary fiber helps maintain intestinal health and regularity; and protects against heart disease and other metabolic conditions. Hence, a fiber-rich food or drink will definitely benefit this population.
5. Aging population needs nutrient-dense food
Nutrient requirements increase with age for three reasons:
1). Older adults’ abilities to absorb and utilize nutrients becomes less efficient.
2). Some medications interact with nutrients and contribute to nutrient wasting, especially B vitamins.
3) Adequate nutrient intake is essential to maintain physical & cognitive condition, bone health, eye health, vascular function, and immune function.
With increase in nutrient requirement and decrease in calorie requirement, it is imperative to ensure, that all food and drink that is developed for this aging population, is nutrient-dense.
You can make food innovations nutrient-dense by selecting a combination of nutrient-dense food i.e., whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy or other protein options as your base. And / or fortifying food with bio-available nutrients of concern.
Aging Population And Nutrients Of Concern
Following are some nutrients of concern, as many older adults do not get these nutrients in a standard diet either because of not consuming a food, or consuming inadequate levels of important food groups.
– Without 2 to 3 servings of milk or milk products daily, it is difficult to meet daily calcium goals. Calcium is essential for maintaining bone strength.
- Older adults are at high risk of vitamin D inadequacy because of a limited source of vitamin D in the diet (fortified milk, fatty fish) and less exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone health & keeping neurological and chronic conditions at bay. It also helps boost immunity.
– Vitamin B12 deficiency is likely in the aging population, as it poorly absorbed due to decrease in stomach acidity. This is cause for concern, as deficiency can lead to a variety of serious nerve-related effects, including peripheral neuropathy, balance disturbances, cognitive disturbances, and ultimately physical disability. Inadequate concentrations of vitamin B12 also leads to high homocysteine levels and a greater risk of heart disease. New findings have determined an association between lower vitamin B12 concentrations and greater loss of bone density.
Magnesium and potassium (along with calcium)
-are also very important for maintaining bone health. If whole grains, fruit & vegetables are consumed inadequately, a deficiency is likely.
– Zinc is found in lean meat, poultry, legumes and nuts; and if these foods are not consumed or consumed inadequately, zinc deficiency is likely. Zinc deficiency may suppress immune function and appetite in aging people.
- Vitamin B6 is essential for numerous metabolic reactions in the body. A deficiency has been linked with high homocysteine levels and increased risk of heart disease, impaired immune function, cognitive function decline and depression.
- Vitamin E an important antioxidant and it helps maintain immune function.
The key is to include bio-available nutrients. Clinical research to ensure the nutrients are bio-available is also important.
The aging population is searching for holistic wellness. The food industry must respond to this need. They must develop products that can help them stay healthful and active, through the golden years. Food innovationss which are fortified with essential nutrients; and backed by credible health benefits, will definitely benefit and appeal to them. To keep them engaged through the golden years, continue to partner with them on a quest for a healthier sail through the golden years.
"5 Nutrition Concerns for Aging Populations." Institute of Medicine. 2010. Providing Healthy and Safe Foods As We Age: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12967. This article can be found here.