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A person spreads cheese on a cracker in a food lab

Hospital nutrition is a huge market. Some facilities make their own meals, while others rely on external food providers -but in either case, the end goal is the same. Recovering patients need nutrition to respond well to treatment and heal effectively.

As most healthcare providers know, making nutritious food available is only half the challenge. Recovering patients may experience reduced appetite, and even changes to their sense of taste – factors that make it difficult to eat enough to get the things their bodies need.

Could pea protein provide another option?

One hospital study* has shown positive results. But getting there meant creating a new bagel, a new salted cracker – and a new, more holistic approach to patients’ culinary health. Here’s how northern Denmark’s largest hospital broke ground with NUTRALYS® pea protein, among other proteins, developed its own snacks, and increased patient protein intake by almost 80%.

“Delicious” makes a difference

“If patients are suffering from malnutrition, it can affect their recovery,” says Marie Nerup Mortensen, head of food research at Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark. The hospital serves about 3,000 meals to patients every day. Its food science department, KULINARIUM, was created to find ways to make nutrition more effective.

KULINARIUM researchers look at hospital nutrition from the perspective of patient experience. Where should meals be served? Should patients eat together rather than apart? How much is the function of nutrition impacted by the pleasure of eating?

One of their first projects focused on snacks.

“When you are sick, you have a huge problem eating big meals,” Mortensen says. “So if you only had three meals a day, we know that in the end you wouldn’t get enough energy and protein. Snacks in between are very important.”

The problem, Mortensen says, is that those snacks most popular with patients weren’t high enough in energy or protein to help them with recovery. KULINARIUM wanted to develop a more nutritious option. But that option would need to be appetizing, too.

Baking a better bagel

KULINARIUM’s research began by looking at what patients liked most. Scientists showed hundreds of pictures to patients to learn more about what interested them, and it found that snacks like bread and crackers served with cheese were most attractive.

But these snacks were usually eaten only in small servings, and they didn’t provide enough energy or protein. So the hospital’s food scientists set to work creating something better.

That’s when they reached out to Roquette to try NUTRALYS® pea protein.

“The driver for the selection of NUTRALYS® was the texture,” says Anne-Sophie Vercruysse, Global Market Manager at Roquette. “They tried other proteins, but they didn’t cook right. Protein can compete in water with the gluten from flour, which keeps it from raising well – the result is too hard, too crumbly.”

And since patients would need to enjoy the snacks for them to be effective, the result would not be good enough. KULINARIAUM decided to try NUTRALYS® pea protein.

“We have one type of NUTRALYS® that has been specifically developed for bakery applications,” Vercruysse says. “It’s also low-sodium which can be nice to manage salt intake in diets.”

NUTRALYS® proved effective for the needs at KULINARIUM, and formulators there were able to develop both a cracker and a mini bagel that baked well and also contained more protein. Working with NUTRALYS®, they increased cracker protein content from 1.5g to 3g per serving and mini bagel content from 3g to 5g.

But would patients eat them?

Eating more; eating better

“We have seen great results,” Mortensen says. Serving the new snacks helped her team increase patient protein intake by 78% and energy intake by 20%. And importantly, patients’ snacking didn’t reduce their nutritional intake during main meals.

Results like these don’t just make patient dining more nutritionally effective. They make it more pleasant, too.

“There’s a growing awareness that providing adequate and tailored nutrition can contribute to improving patient’s’ health conditions,” Vercruysse says. “And this is quite a large market. Protein fortification today is mostly done with milk – but we can see an emerging trend of plant-based diets for consumers. NUTRALYS® ingredients make it possible to meet that need and diversify protein sourcing.”

The KULINARIUM study was published in the Journal of the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism in 2019.

See all NUTRALYS® Health Benefits & Studies

*NUTRALYS® health benefits are supported by one single clinical study. Food manufacturers who would like to use NUTRALYS® pea protein for these benefits will have to run its own studies based on its own formulation.

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