The world’s population is getting older and it is not happening slowly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pace of population aging is much faster than in the past, and the numbers of people aged over 60 years old will double by 2050 (1). By the same year, the WHO estimates that 80% of older people will be living in low- and middle-income countries. This in turn will create new problems due to the cost of caring for the elderly and ensuring support can be provided in the form of healthcare services to safeguard general health for this population.
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region will be at the forefront of managing the challenges that emerge with caring for an elderly population. Global AgeWatch found that the proportion of people aged 60 and over, the “silver consumers,” is projected to grow in all Asian countries, but Japan and South Korea are expected to age faster than their neighbors. By 2030, 37.3% of the Japanese population is expected to be in this age bracket, while South Korea’s is predicted to be 31.4%, representing an almost doubling of the figure compared to 2015 for the latter country. Similar trends are seen across Asia, such as in Thailand and China, which by 2020 will both see more than a quarter of their populations made up of those aged 60 and over.
As populations age, the importance of ensuring that the elderly can live a healthy lifestyle into older age becomes crucial. According to a Herbalife Nutrition survey of APAC consumers, healthy aging means being mentally active and sharp (61%), being physically active (57%), not suffering from illness (56%), living a free and independent life (52%), and not being a burden to their family (51%) (2).
These factors can be brought under three clear priorities: to maintain brain and mental health, to remain physically active, and to avoid age-related illness. Each of these factors are made up of specific examples of what constitutes healthy aging:
- Mental: Memory, mental alertness, focus, relaxation, sleep
- Physical: Energy, bones, joint, muscle, and heart
- General health: Immunity, gut health, microbiota diversity, risk of infection
However, the same Herbalife survey found that less than three in 10 APAC consumers are confident in their ability to maintain these pillars of health as they age. This is where consumers are able to rely on food and beverage manufacturers to develop products that can assist individuals with healthy aging, through improving cognition, immunity, and general health.
Diet is one of the modifiable factors that can help prevent age-related diseases and help preserve overall good health during the aging process (3). It is important that food and beverage manufacturers support consumers in navigating the aging process with products that conveniently deliver health benefits, especially when specific to preventing age-related deterioration.
Boosting fiber intake
Fiber is well known to constitute an integral part of a healthy diet. A study found that eating 25g to 29g or more of dietary fiber per day led to a decreased risk in all-cause and cardiovascular related mortality (4). However, the same study, commissioned by the WHO, stated that most people worldwide consume less than 20g of dietary fiber per day.
More specifically, fiber contributes to good gut health, which can in turn help support an effective immune system. As individuals age, the mucus layer and barrier function of the gut weakens, leading to a rise in inflammation and an increase in the risk of infection. In addition, microbiota diversity and beneficial metabolites are found to decrease, leading to the decline of the immune system (5).
Fiber is beneficial to aging populations because it can support a more diversified gut microbiome, with one example being through the production of metabolites, such as short chain fatty acids (6). Other benefits include prebiotic effect, blood glucose management, improving satiety, weight management, and sustained energy release (7).
Food and beverage manufacturers should be looking to introduce fiber into products to capitalize on these benefits, particularly as there are easy-to-use fiber enrichment solutions available. Roquette has developed NUTRIOSE® soluble fiber made from non-GMO wheat or corn exactly for this purpose. Manufacturers should be looking for a fiber solution to be easily digestible and to have a high fiber content, thereby ensuring that the resulting product effectively helps reach the optimum recommended levels for gut health and general well-being. For example, NUTRIOSE® has a digestive tolerance threshold of 45g per day with no side effects, which can be effective in helping elderly populations meet their fiber requirements.
NUTRIOSE® has also been proven to be effective in human or preclinical models to have a range of benefits for gut health, prebiotics, and some first scientific evidence that it may support the immune system. The research has shown that Roquette’s product is able to promote specific and useful bacteria, while also decreasing levels of less useful bacteria (8): it has a positive overall impact on the gut environment and gut activities, such as short-chain fatty acid production, metabolites with well-known health benefits (9); in preclinical models, NUTRIOSE® modulates some immune cell response and inflammatory biomarkers; and it reinforces the gut barrier (10, 11).
Protein for a healthy body
Another area that has recently become a source of major consumer interest for improving health is the addition of high-quality protein to food and beverages. Supplementing with additional protein can provide particular advantages to older demographics, as people tend to have lower muscle mass and muscle tissue quality as they age. This can lead to poorer quality of life through loss of normal physical function, which is one of the primary concerns previously mentioned for APAC consumers.
While aging, insulin resistance increases as well as vascular dysfunction and other metabolic changes. All this leads to a less efficient muscle protein synthesis resulting into muscle mass and strength loss. Age-related muscle mass and strength loss can be slowed down by higher consumption of high nutritional quality protein. Research has shown that many adults do not consume enough protein, which is in the range of 1.2g per kilogram weighed, each day (12). Sarcopenia is the excessive and damaging loss of muscle that can occur with aging but can be prevented through increased protein intake and regular physical activity. The condition has functional adverse consequences, such as increased morbidity due to falls, fractures, infections, and other conditions, as well as increased mortality.
For food and beverage manufacturers, the possibility to add nutritional quality protein to products is well aligned with the overall aging population seen in the APAC region, as well as globally.
Roquette has conducted research with its NUTRALYS® plant protein ingredient, a premium nutritional quality pea protein, which showed supplementation with the product increased muscular mass (13). The 12-week study analyzed participants provided 50g per day of NUTRALYS® or whey protein, with participants undertaking sport training three times per week. At the end of the study, no difference was noted in thickness of the biceps brachii in the whey group, but a significant evolution was noted in the NUTRALYS® group.
Additional research into NUTRALYS® has shown that the product can help with blood glucose management (14). The area is of particular importance to the elderly, as the risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age. During a clinical study, Roquette found that the addition of NUTRALYS® pea protein to a control glucose beverage significantly decreased the blood glucose levels (15). The conclusion drawn was that including NUTRALYS® with high glycemic foods could be a useful strategy to occasionally manage blood glucose levels.
Combine soluble fibers with proteins for an exceptional flavor
To produce the ideal product for elderly consumers, it is also possible to combine both soluble fiber products with protein. One of the concerns about this approach could be how two additional ingredients would impact the flavor profile of the end product. To test this, Roquette conducted a study where a 125g apple compote was used to deliver 6.3% NUTRIOSE® soluble fiber, 5.1% NUTRALYS® pea protein, and 0.9% NUTRALYS® wheat protein (16). Of those who participated, 91% of the volunteers rated the taste of the apple compote “rather pleasant” to “very pleasant,” with these ratings staying consistent over a 21-day testing period.
Creating a product that is specifically targeting the dietary and nutritional needs of the elderly population is important today, and is only going to grow in necessity as people continue to age across the APAC region.
Roquette is an expert in how best to help the silver consumer benefit from ingredients that provide benefits across cognition, mobility and general health. This is one of the reasons why Roquette has developed a diverse portfolio of plant-based ingredients that addresses not just their health concerns, but also ensures a pleasurable eating experience.