In undertaking the research project ‘Protein for Life,’ Professor Emma Stevenson will reveal insights that the food industry must consider to overcome barriers to an increasingly urgent public health issue.
“The purpose of this research project is to identify and develop guidelines that are sustainable, cost effective and enjoyable,” she explained.
“This will include consideration of the composition of the proteins, palatability, sustainability, cost and public acceptance.
Professor Stevenson, a principal investigator in the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University, will present her thoughts at Food Protein Vision where she is an invited speaker.
The event, set to take place in Amsterdam on 7-9th March, touches on the issues influencing the protein space that include insect protein, single cell technology, and alternative proteins.
A set of ‘design rules’
The drivers and barriers to protein intake are the focal point for Professor Stevenson's research.
As she explains, the food industry is in the best position to help tailor interventions to encourage appropriate protein intake at different points of the life-cycle.
In addition, the introduction of new guidelines to inform new product development or reformulation to encourage increased protein intake and support healthy ageing is long overdue.
“Our overall objective is to use the information gathered to provide the food industry with a set of 'design rules' for new products. Working with our industry partners, we will then develop and trial some exemplar products based on the design rules.
“The products will then be tested for palatability and acceptability in groups of mid-life and older adults and then refined accordingly. The findings are then disseminated to the public, policy makers and the food industry.”
As study lead for the Protein for Life project, Professor Stevenson is well placed to provide an expert opinion on elderly malnutrition and the rising incidences of sarcopenia - the decline of muscle mass and strength with age.
Advocating a regimen of consuming several smaller portions of protein throughout the day, this strategy has led to calls for the UK reference nutrient intake (RNI) of 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day to be revised.
‘Dense, chewy and not digestible’
“I do believe there should be more focus on consuming protein little and often throughout the day and trying to maintain some level of activity,” she said.
“Some of the key issues lie with a reduced appetite and therefore a reduction in overall energy intake as we age.
"This therefore means that the total amount of protein consumed in the diet declines. High protein foods that are currently available on the market are dense, chewy and not to particularly easy to digest.
“Cost of products is also a factor to consider – many protein sources and high protein products are expensive and unlikely to be purchased by the older consumer.”
As the project’s name suggests, Protein for Life is aimed at the long-term with far reaching implications for multiple stakeholders all responsible in achieving health-enhancing goals.
With seven industry stakeholders on board for the project, Professor Stevenson has highlighted their activity and contributions to ensure maximum chances of success.
“This highlights that the food industry recognise the issue of availability of higher protein foods for older adults and are willing and prepared to engage in projects to help improve provision,” she said.
“Protein for Life is a short pump-priming project and we hope will lead onto further projects and engagement with the food industry in this area.”
Protein intake amongst the elderly is just one of the issues set to take centre stage as senior citizen numbers rise worldwide and with it mounting health challenges.
In March 2018, FoodNavigator's publisher William Reed, will be hosting a three-day event in Amsterdam on protein, bringing together scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs.