Improving protein intake for the elderly

    Taste tests have been held on a range of bread, yoghurt, spaghetti, ice cream and chocolates enriched with ground-up beef.

    Often consumption of meats drops off as people age as it’s difficult to chew and swallow meat products like steaks, patties or even sausages. So, New Zealand food scientists have come up with a way to help get more protein into the diets of elderly consumers.

    Dr Mustafa Farouk, Dr Scott Knowles and Maryann Staincliffe from AgResearch, a FoodHQ founding partner, and colleagues at the Auckland University of Technology created six hybrid foods and carried out taste tests.

    Here’s a brief update on what they found:


    • Older consumers sometimes struggle with traditional meat foods.
    • We incorporated meat into unexpected food formats under new product categories.
    • Bread, spaghetti, yoghurt, ice cream and chocolate were prototyped and tested.
    • Samples had greater protein content and most were acceptable to proxy consumers.
    • Products could provide the elderly with means to attain their protein requirements.


    Red meat enriched versions of bread, spaghetti, yoghurt, ice cream and chocolate were prototyped and assessed for some of their physical, chemical and microbiological properties, as well as sensory appeal. The protein content of the products were significantly increased and their colour went darker with meat enrichment (p < 0.05). Bread volume and spaghetti tensile strength increased and ice cream meltability and yoghurt apparent viscosity decreased with meat enrichment (p < 0.05). The overall acceptability/liking of bread, flavoured ice cream and spaghetti were not affected (p > 0.05) but that of non-flavoured ice cream and yoghurt went down (p < 0.05) with meat enrichment. 75% of the 940 panellist who ate the meat-enriched chocolates either loved or slightly-liked them. The outcome of the present study would assist in making the nutrition of meat available in a wider range of product categories, helping the meat industry stretch its established business models, and encouraging further development of novel food choices for elderly and other groups of consumers.


    The worldwide population of older people is growing. This demographic group, with its unique physiological and nutritional challenges, present opportunities for industry in terms of food development. The challenge is to create, revise and re-imagine products that elders could readily consume to meet nutrition requirements and address some of the common ailments associated with aging, such as loss of muscle mass and strength. Meat is a rich source of these desirable nutrients, but can be difficult for the elderly to eat as whole-tissue foods such as steaks, coarsely ground patties, fine emulsion sausages and jerky. Alternative presentations of meat and meat constituents may provide options, be they familiar foods, snacks or treats.

    In this study, we have demonstrated simple ways by which meat can be incorporated into familiar foods. The results are limited and preliminary in nature, but suggest the potential such products have to help elderly and other consumers meet their nutrition requirements. While many food ideas are possible in the laboratory, not all are practicable, and product development becomes increasingly expensive as it advances towards commercialisation. Therefore, future research should always start from a fundamental understanding of meat science, about how meat is structured and can be deconstructed, about how muscles, tissues and breeds of animals differ, and about how livestock farming and the meat industry can supply raw materials suited to these new, non-traditional, non-commodity applications.

    Content first published in Food Research International.