Researchers have been studying ways to improve the nutrition of older people who have difficulty swallowing food.
Dysphagia is a disorder in which an individual’s ability to swallow is compromised. This can lead to a number of conditions including malnutrition. One of the ways in which the disorder is managed is to modify the diet, whereby drinks are thickened by adding different polysaccharides. These polysaccharides, for example xanthan gum, all confer different levels of viscosity to liquids; in addition their behaviour in digestion varies.
Researchers from the Department of Food Science and Technology, Kaunas University of Technology, Kaunas, Lithuania, have investigated the use of different protein-based formulations for beverages suitable for elderly people with dysphagia. Their work has been published in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
First the beverages were formulated from different sources of dairy and pea protein. The protein quality was evaluated in terms of its ability to meet the amino acid needs of older people and the viscosity of the fluids. Secondly the polysaccharide konjac glucomannan, considered to be an indigestible dietary fibre, was used as the thickener of a milk protein formulation. Another goal of the research was to compare the digestion behaviour of protein formulations with similar viscosity but different protein composition and quality. The research team also investigated how easily the protein-based beverages could be consumed by those with dysphagia.
Properties of the fluids investigate included rheological characterisation of the protein formulation, an in vitro digestion model, along with the determination of free α-amino groups by fluorescamine assay.
The research team concluded that ‘Geriatric consumers with swallowing difficulties may benefit from ‘honey’-level viscosity, protein-based beverages containing pea and milk proteins through faster proteolysis and better bioaccessability of amino acids during digestion.’
In addition the researchers noted that geriatric consumers with swallowing difficulties described the beverages as ‘comfortable’ due to good product texture attributes (viscosity and creaminess).