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Exploring the Links Between Healthy Diet and Healthy Aging
Insights on the Challenges and Needs for Nutrition Among the Elderly in Asia
A perspective from Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran, Vice President of Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association &
Head, Centre of Applied Nutrition Services & Glycemic Index Research, Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore.

2019-09-04 15:04 Wednesday


As Asia progresses toward the 2020s, many countries are facing the prospect of an increasingly aging population. This creates challenges not just in terms of social issues and financial security but, conversely, is driving rapid innovation in such areas as technology and healthcare.

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Regarding nutraceuticals and functional foods, the whole industry is seeing a rising wave of new approaches and products emerging to satisfy the needs of the elderly. As the make-up of any society changes then new solutions can effectively offer benefits to the shifting demographic – whether that be a better understanding of the aging process or changing attitudes to meal preparation.

 

In Asia, the effect of the aging population is making itself known nowhere more so than in Singapore, where, according to official statistics, in the last decade the proportion of  residents aged 65 years and over has increased from 8.7% in 2008 to 13.7% in  2018.

 

Due to its prominent position as a technology and medical center, local research promoted by scientists such as Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran, Vice President of Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, has become of key interest to anyone in the diet and nutrition industry, particularly with regards to aging and how everyone can look forward to getting the most out of life in their senior years.

Recently, Duxes was pleased to be able to invite Dr. Kalpana to present a talk at the 4th Nutraceutical and Functional Food Asia Pacific Summit 2019 (NFAP) in Singapore from June 25-26, 2019. During the event, she spoke on "Healthy Aging: The Natural Consequences of Optimum Nutrition". The talk included information on the current challenges and opportunities faced by the elderly, and, the future of dietary products and healthy lifestyle guidance.

 

Research promoted by scientists such as Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran,   Head, Centre for Applied Nutrition Services & Glycemic Index Research   Unit, has become of key interest to anyone in the diet and nutrition   industry…

 

With the talk receiving much positive feedback and praise from attendees, we spoke to Dr. Kalpana after the Summit to ask her to share more of her insights into the link between diet and healthy aging, and ask her what advice she can offer to company's involved in nutraceutical and functional foods in terms of the trends and patterns that she has seen, according to her expert professional experience.

For those new to the topic of healthy aging, can you explain the difference between physical and metabolic aging?

Aging is a biological reality that starts with conception and ends with death. Physical aging refers to the physical changes of aging which happens over the years. The physical changes in your body are often the most apparent as you age.

Physical signs of aging are usually correlated to chronological age. Wrinkles are a classic sign of aging – although people actually develop wrinkles all throughout their life. Older skin is less elastic and thinner and is therefore more prone to developing wrinkles.

 

Metabolic age may soon become a   universal marker of aging, stress and frailty. Some of the symptoms of   metabolic aging will be an increase in body weight, waist circumference and   visceral fat, and a decrease in lean body mass.

 

Metabolic aging refers to your health status and not just the physical signs of aging. If your body is in good health, then your metabolic age will be lower than your chronological age. Typical metabolic aging takes into account visceral fat around your stomach, as well as your weight, muscle mass and body fat percentage. If a person is overweight or obese then that individual's metabolic age will be higher. Leading a healthy lifestyle slows down metabolic aging.

Metabolic age may soon become a universal marker of aging, stress and frailty. Some of the symptoms of metabolic aging will be an increase in body weight, waist circumference and visceral fat, and a decrease in lean body mass. In addition, a person with a high metabolic age may have hyperinsulinemia (excess levels of insulin), high levels of LDL cholesterol, low levels of HDL cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, moderate to high blood pressure, and elevation of certain liver enzymes.

What problems do people in the Asia-Pacific region currently face when it comes to diet and aging?

There are several typical problems which impact the elderly and affect their dietary intake due to aging:

- Firstly, elderly-friendly portion sizes are not available when eating out. Due to a lower level of activity, reduction of overall caloric requirement and a decline in muscle mass, the elderly are not able to consume large food portion sizes. The portion sizes should be smaller than that for the younger generation. There are kids' meals at restaurants and fast-food outlets, but there are no elderly-friendly portion sizes. They have to pay more for standard portions, when they actually eat less.

- Nutrient density is not given much importance. Due to their reduced appetite and caloric needs, it is important that the elderly consume foods that are dense in nutrients such as protein, so as to provide maximum nutrition per bite.

- Lack of micronutrients. This is a relatively new field of research. Micronutrients can be added to food to help with malabsorption.

- Texture modification. This area is still in its infancy in many parts of Asia-Pacific region. As the majority of the elderly will encounter problems with chewing or swallowing at some point in their lives, it is advisable to increase the moisture level of their food to compensate for lower saliva production.

 

As the majority of the elderly will   encounter problems with chewing or swallowing at some point in their lives,  it is advisable to increase the moisture level of their food to compensate   for lower saliva production.

 

- Also, soft food should be given in small portions that can be swallowed easily without the risk of choking. Many elderly do not have access to nutrient-dense, texture-modified foods.

What are some of the roles functional foods can play in promoting healthy aging?

Functional foods provide not only the daily required nutrients but also other secondary metabolites with biological activities and physiological benefits to protect from infections and diseases. The adage coined by Hippocrates nearly 2,500 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” still remains true till this day.

As the metabolic activity progressively decreases in elderly populations, they should balance medication with healthy food habits and regular exercise to maintain good health and longevity. Functional foods, when consumed as an integral part of daily diet, help the elderly to cut down and/or eliminate the medicinal intake by improving their physiological functions.

 

Functional foods, when consumed as   an integral part of daily diet, help the elderly to cut down and/or eliminate   the medicinal intake by improving their physiological functions.

 

Specific functional foods help fight disease, boost the immune system, maintain healthy skin, maintain joints and strong bones, improve gut health and promote longevity. Certain components in functional foods also exhibit antioxidant, cardio-protective, anti-diabetic, hepato- and neuro-protective and antimicrobial activities.

Do you see influence from new technologies, such as automation in the meal preparation industry, as having an effect on seniors' eating habits in Singapore?

Yes, the influence of new technology goes beyond just using machines to boost productivity gains. [Organizations are] investing in research and development (R&D) to meet needs and keep up with the latest food trends, such as health food and nutrition for the elderly.

Technology and automation have also led to more seniors eating packaged convenience meals that are healthy and nutritious and tailored to meet their needs. In 2018, NTUC FoodFare in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Nutrition at Temasek Polytechnic launched a range of ready-to-eat, low-GI meals with local flavors.

 

The personalized nutritional needs   of the elderly can be met by choosing appropriate modular meal packs and   creating meals based on their therapeutic nutritional needs.

 

The placement of vending machines at strategic locations can also make ready-to-eat, healthier options available for the elderly. In addition to home-cooked meals and hawker (street food) meals, ready-to-eat convenience meals will add variety and provide meals on the go at an affordable cost.

The personalized nutritional needs of the elderly can be met by choosing appropriate modular meal packs and creating meals based on their therapeutic nutritional needs.

What areas do you think will see the biggest consumer demand in terms of nutrition and healthy eating in the future?

Consumers are looking for brands that share the transparency of their product, and they're seeking clean labels. Brands with high ethical values will be more important than ever. Plant-based, non-dairy alternatives will be more sought after, too, and this will be driven by global issues on sustainability.

Consumers will create an increased demand for those products that meet multiple dietary requirements as well as offering a specific functional element. There will be increased demand for upscale, speed-scratch solutions and restaurant-quality, ready-to-consume products that also address longevity-related health concerns.

 

There will be increased demand for upscale, speed-scratch solutions and restaurant-quality, ready-to-consume  products that also address longevity-related health concerns.

 

Find out more about Duxes Functional Food Series and upcoming events

Healthy aging was just one of many topics explored at NFAP 2019. Each year Duxes invites a wide selection of industry experts to speak on the issues that matter most to professionals in the nutraceutical and functional food industry.

Next year's event will be 5th Nutraceutical and Functional Food Asia Pacific Summit 2020, which will also take place in Singapore. The Summit is a great way to build connections for your company, and make sure you stay on top of all the latest trends and regulatory changes that matter.

For further information on Duxes Functional Food Series and for more details of all forthcoming events, don't forget to visit our website here: 

http://www.duxes-foodbeverage.com/


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