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Food for the aged

12 Oct, 2012

Allan Hardacre and his students at Massey University are developing a high-protein food for the aged. Ruth Beran visits the Food Technology Pilot Plant to find out how the food is made.

Listen to audio: Food for the aged.

Duration: 12:42

Nutritional needs of an ageing population

It’s predicted that, by the year 2050, one in 10 New Zealanders will be aged 80 or over. As people get older, good nutrition becomes more difficult as appetite decreases and it becomes harder to chew and swallow. There is a lack of affordable, nutritious and tasty foods that are convenient for the elderly on the market, so Allan Hardacre and his students are developing a high-protein food to meet this need.

High-protein meat substitute

Called meat-analogue (meat substitute), the food is made up of soy flour, wheat protein and water and is flavoured with vegetable hydrolysate (such as Marmite or Vegemite). The mixture is manufactured on an extruder in the Food Technology Pilot Plant at Massey University in Palmerston North. The extruder cooks the food as it pumps it out, and the food comes out of the die as a long, thin beige-coloured sausage. It is then chopped to size, dried and can be cooked in a variety of ways, such as in sausages, pies or fingers. Ruth Beran watches as the food is made and gets to test taste some as it comes off the extruder.

Providing adequate protein resources for the world

Current product development is aimed at food for the aged. However, the principles may also be applied more generally in the future to help address the issue of providing adequate protein resources for the world.

Beans, which form the basis of the new food, are a good protein source, containing about 27% protein, and they are easy for humans to digest. Currently, not many people like to eat raw or cooked beans, and they take a long time to cook. However, on the extruder, they can be made into products such as expanded snacks that are more generally acceptable.

Improved quality of life, reduced healthcare costs

The very elderly often end up with nutrition-related diseases. This can result in high levels of intervention care involving drugs and medical procedures, which are costly and make life less pleasant. By 2050, it’s predicted that over 300 000 people in New Zealand will be in elderly care requiring high levels of care costing about $1000 per week.

Elderly people are often fed pureed food, which contains a lot of water. The water content makes them feel full without contributing any nutrients. The meat-analogue product is designed to emulate the fibrous structure of meat and fish and to be made into products such as sausages, pies and fingers. The food has a soft chewy texture that breaks down easily in the mouth, is easy to swallow but has some texture to chew on. This provides a more enjoyable food experience for the elderly, enabling them to eat better, stay healthy and do it easily.

Programme details: Our Changing World

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