Elderly people probably enjoy their food more if various aspects such as texture, taste and appearance are improved at the same time. This is the message of Esmée Doets and Stefanie Kramer, researchers at Food & Biobased Research, in a review published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
Of all seniors living independently without care provision, around 5 to 10 percent consistently eat too little, says Doets. In old people’s homes and nursing homes, undernutrition – inadequate intake of energy and protein – is a problem for 20 percent of the residents. There is also an unknown number of seniors with ‘qualitative undernutrition’. Deficiencies in specific nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D are quite common too. So for some time now researchers have been looking for ways of making foods more appetizing for old people. Without much success, it appears from the review conducted by Doets and Kremer. They say this is because most efforts focus on boosting the flavour of the food. But adding higher concentrations of flavourings does not necessarily make food any more appealing to seniors. ‘I would prefer to focus on enriching several sensory aspects at the same time,’ says Doets. An example could be mashed potato with added green herbs. This creates a richer taste as well as looking nicer. Initial research showed that this approach led to greater enjoyment of the food.
Environmental factors can help boost appetites too. The packaging of a product and the memories it evokes contribute to how much it is enjoyed. But factors such as where people eat and the company they eat with have an impact too. Unfortunately, says Doets, much of the research on this topic focuses on young adults, while the results could be quite different for seniors. Only now that the population is ageing is there a growing interest in the elderly. ‘Companies see the use of it too now.’