The UK has an ageing population. Currently, 18% (around 11.8m adults) are aged 65 and over, of which 8% are over 75 years old. We are living longer, but not necessarily healthier lives, and what we eat and drink can play a key role in supporting the body.
There are a number of ways food companies can use innovation to support older consumers. Here are some key considerations and opportunities to bear in mind.
Product considerations for older adults
Many nutritional requirements do not differ between younger and older adults. However, older adults need fewer calories due to a decrease in activity and changes in body composition. In other words, their diet needs to be nutrient rich.
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.
The choice of food product can also be impacted due to difficulties in chewing and swallowing some types of food.
Sense of smell and taste decline with age, and the use of medications can impact taste sensitivity. These factors can decrease both appetite and interest in food. It may be tempting to add more salt and sugar to foods to enhance the flavour, but this should be avoided. Using foods with a variety of colours and textures and adding herbs and spices such as mint, curcumin, paprika or seaweed seasoning can help make meals more interesting.
Nutrient considerations for older adults
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.
Intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) 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. Emerging evidence also suggests these fatty acids have beneficial impacts on diabetes and inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
As with younger adults, 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). The average intake of saturated fats for adults aged 65-74 years, on the other hand, exceeds the guidelines, as does the amount of free sugars.
Protein is particularly important as we age as it helps maintain muscle mass and strength, but 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.
Breakfast protein opportunity
Typically, most of our protein tends to be consumed at lunch or dinner. However, spreading protein intake across the day appears to be as important as the actual total amount consumed. One study found older adults with a more uneven protein distribution were more likely to be frail despite eating enough protein to meet intake guidelines.
Therefore, encouraging more protein at breakfast may help support muscles in older adults. 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.