You are here

Protein for Life – Developing food opportunities for a healthy, ageing population

Protein For Life

'Protein for Life' is designed to identify and develop guidelines for protein products for healthy ageing (living a better, longer life) that are cost effective, sustainable and enjoyable. Using a unique multidisciplinary approach we aim to understand current consumer behaviours around protein intake, and barriers and constraints to increasing protein intake in an ageing population.

Stage

Work in Progress

Directory of Expertise

Purpose

Food is central to every aspect of our lives. It provides not only nourishment, but also influences our social interactions, health and well-being. Today we are living longer than ever before and the importance of healthy ageing (recognised as targeting preventative actions in the 40+ years age group) is increasingly recognised.

The challenge for the ‘Protein For Life’ project is to develop design concepts that maintain a healthy protein intake in the ageing population to support healthy ageing.

The decline of muscle mass/strength is a key component of healthy ageing and can have a major impact on quality of life. Increasing protein intake at all stages of our life may help to reduce the rate of muscle decline and the onset of associated health conditions. However, there is currently a lack of understanding of the social, demographic and psychological drivers of food choices surrounding protein intake.

Together with existing SEFARI research evidence, the knowledge gained will be used to inform industry and help with reformulation and new product development for the diverse population of ageing consumers. This work really highlights how SEFARI researchers can build on the research developed and under-pinned through sustained Strategic Research Programme funding, and become a key collaborative partner when attracting additional research grant awards that directly interact with industry.

‘Protein For Life’ is a collaborative project including SEFARI researchers from The Rowett Institute along with other UK academic collaborators (Bristol, Sheffield and Liverpool Universities) and led by Newcastle University. The project is further supported by collaboration with seven industry partners (Sainsburys, Campden BRI, Nestle, Bradgate Bakery, Mondelez International, Premier Foods and Pladis).

‘Protein for Life’ is funded by the Research Councils UK's ‘Priming Food Partnerships’ initiative which is supported by four councils: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC),  Medical Research Council (MRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Together we are assessing the factors related to protein intake at three different life stages: mid-life (40-54 years), younger old (55-69 years), and older old (70 + years). A number of approaches will be used to develop and share guidelines with the food industry for the formulation of palatable higher-protein foods and ultimately provide a set of 'design rules' for new products. Working with our industry partners, we will then develop prototype products which will be trialled for taste and suitability in adults (aged 40 upwards) and then refined.

We will share the findings of the study with the public, policy makers and the food industry; and we hope this research will provide a more general roadmap that can be used to inform future product development.

Results

Initially a report was commissioned to explore the industry-based challenges and opportunities specific to this project and was led by the SEFARI researchers at the Rowett Institute.

In-depth discussion with our industry partners revealed the following main findings in relation to Development of High Protein Foods for Healthy Ageing:

• Cost is the main limiting factor for product development and is significantly impacted by raw ingredient cost and challenges with ingredient functionality (e.g. how a plant-based flour supports structure or texture during the baking process), particularly for emerging proteins.

• A reliable and scalable supply chain for raw protein ingredients is essential for both small and large businesses.

• Favouring plant-based proteins over animal proteins, due to their greater environmental sustainability, could make development of high protein products difficult due to the lower protein content of plant proteins relative to animal proteins. Protein fractions (often in the form of powdered concentrate) are an obvious solution however they are not suitable for use in all product types and can be associated with higher costs.

• The food industry perceived protein quantity to be of greater value than protein quality for the consumer; due to a lack of consumer awareness about the role of protein in age-related muscle loss.

• Lack of consumer awareness is currently a significant barrier to the development of age-related high protein products; the food industry would welcome greater involvement from public health bodies to create a clear and concise health message for consumers.

• Consumer acceptance of 'functional' protein products could be a barrier to product success; to increase consumer acceptance, further research into consumer attitudes and behaviours is required – this will help develop an effective marketing approach for age-related high-protein products.

• Labelling requirements for protein claims could be improved to reflect the needs of older adults; age-specific nutrition claims will aid product marketing.

• The industry is proactive, well equipped, and will be highly successful at overcoming the recognised and emerging formulation challenges specific to plant-based protein ingredients.

Benefits

With an ageing population, food solutions are urgently needed to promote health and independence later in life.

In part, this can be achieved by maintaining muscle mass and strength as people age.

New evidence suggests that current dietary recommendations for protein intake may be insufficient to achieve this goal and that people might benefit by increasing their intake of high-quality protein on three daily occasions.

However, the negative environmental effects of increasing animal-protein production are a concern and alternative, more sustainable protein sources should be considered.

It is still unclear how the transition towards diets high in plant proteins affects the appetite in overweight, normal weight and underweight adults as they age, and whether it could be problematic for individuals at risk of malnutrition. This is because protein is more satiating (prompts the termination of eating) than other nutrients.

We have reviewed the protein needs of an ageing population (>40 years old), sustainable protein sources, appetite-related implications of diet high in plant proteins, to identify areas for future research.

Summary:

• How much protein do we need to eat - the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for protein (0.75 g per kg of body weight) may be insufficient in inhibiting age-related loss of muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia).

• Meeting daily protein requirements in an ageing population requires consideration of both protein type (plant and animal sources) and distribution (when consumed).

• There is currently limited data investigating the effect of plant proteins on appetite control, satiety (fullness) and food intake across body weight ranges and ages, with more data available on diary and meat forms.

• Food-based solutions for healthy ageing requires a consumer focus and collaboration between industry and academia.

Project Partners

University of Aberdeen

Newcastle University, Professor Emma Stevenson

University of Bristol, Professor Jeff Brunstrom

University of Sheffield, Dr Bernard Corfe, Dr Liz Williams and Dr Anthony Watson

University of Liverpool, Dr Mark Green

Sainsburys

Campden BRI

Nestle

Bradgate Bakery

Mondelez International

Premier Foods

Pladis

Documents

Related Links