Studies undertaken by Fonterra, the HAN University of Applied Sciences, and VU University Medical Center at a hospital and a rehabilitation facility in the Netherlands found that “the use of protein enriched products contributes to an improved protein distribution over the day” in elderly patients.
The participants, many of whom were malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, consumed either a normal diet or one including bread and/or drinking yogurt enriched with a Fonterra dairy protein.
In both studies, those patients assigned the diet including protein-enriched drinking yogurt and/or bread achieved a higher daily intake of protein.
Speaking with DairyReporter.com at the International Whey Conference in Rotterdam, Fonterra's Lesley Stevenson said the findings, while unsurprising, suggest the elderly can meet recommended protein intake levels without making drastic dietary changes or resorting to the consumption of supplements.
“The product we used was a drinking yogurt,” said Stevenson. “It’s an everyday food.”
“It means they wouldn't have to change their dietary habits to actually incorporate it.”
Cycle of frailty
Stevenson hopes the research, funded by the Dutch government, will help the elderly avoid the dreaded cycle of frailty.
"The cycle of frailty is what happens to people when they have reduced physical activity," she said. "Their appetite becomes suppressed and their health starts to suffer as a result of not consuming enough nutrients," she said.
“If we can make it easier for them to buy or gain access to products that are not specifically oral nutrition supplements, that taste great, and that allow people to still enjoy the pleasure of eating food, then I think it is a real opportunity.”
These findings, Stevenson added, could be furthered by Fonterra and lead to the development of a high-protein dairy product specifically for the elderly.
"It's something we are obviously keen to consider," she said."We have a branded business and we are present in various markets around the world. In many of these countries, the aging population in increasing."
"We will be looking at it, but further research is needed to put us in a good place to get out a product that we know can make a difference."
The sensory preferences held by the elderly will factor significantly into any development, she added.
"We spent quite a bit of time making sure the products were developed for that particular age group and that the taste profile would be acceptable."
"The Fonterra ingredient that was used in the product is particularly good because it does not change the sensory profile - it's very hard to tell that there is a lot more protein than in one that hasn't been fortified."
During the hospital trial, 47 hospitalized elderly patients voluntarily consumed either protein-enriched drinking yogurt, protein-enriched bread, or normal products as part of their daily meals over three consecutive days.
Of the 47 subjects, 45 were malnourished or at risk of malnutrition at the start of the study. After three days, the 22 patients on the high-protein diets were consuming an average of 75g of protein per day. The daily protein intake of the remaining 25 subjects meanwhile weighed in at 58g.
In the second study, 34 elderly rehabilitation home patients who had recently undergone orthopedic were assigned either a high-protein diet, including the protein enriched drinking yogurt and bread, or a regular diet for three weeks.
The daily protein intake of the 17 subjects on the high-protein diet averaged at 115.3g - "significantly higher" than the 72.5g consumed by the control group.
“One of the objectives of the study was to try and get the subjects to consume more protein," said Stevenson. “We wanted to see if by offering them these products they would actually increase their average protein intake. This actually happened.”
Further work is now required to understand whether the increase of protein intake results in "superior rehabilitation."