Protein intake is particularly important as we age. As we get older, we become less able to use the protein we eat to convert it into muscles and perform other important biological processes.
At the same time, many protein sources – such as meat, fish and nuts – become more difficult to eat or are expensive and time-consuming to prepare. This means that people tend to eat less when they need more.
Professor Katherine Appleton and Dr Emmy van den Heuvel at Bournemouth University have undertaken research investigating the barriers to consuming high-protein foods in adults as they age, and trying a number of strategies that may help.
“We know that older adults need more protein, but tend to eat less,” said Dr van den Heuvel. “Meat or nuts might be difficult to chew and it can take quite a lot of cooking skill to prepare meat or fish or other protein-rich foods.”
Professor Appleton and Dr van den Heuvel and colleagues have explored whether finding new and interesting ways to eat eggs could be a way to encourage older adults to consume more protein.
In a randomised control trial, they gave a group of older adults six high-protein egg-based recipes every fortnight for three months, along with herb and spice packets.
“We tried to encourage egg intake because eggs are soft, they are easy to prepare, they are relatively cheap and have a long shelf-life compared to meat or fish,” said Dr van den Heuvel, a Lecturer in Psychology.
“We provided specific recipes to give some new ideas, to add variety and with herbs and spices and flavours that people might not normally use.”
The work was part-funded by the British Egg Industry Council and recipes included a pizza omelette, a frittata, and Turkish eggs consisting of a poached egg in yoghurt with honey and spices.
The study found that participants who were given the recipes increased their egg intake for up to 12 weeks after the intervention.
This week is Malnutrition Awareness Week and it is estimated that around 1.3 million older people in the UK are living with malnutrition or are at risk of being malnourished, with 93 per cent of these living in the community.
Low protein consumption has been found to result in increased illness and infection and increased chances of falls, fractures and hospital stays. It can also lead to reduced mobility, independence and wellbeing, and increased early death.
“With the increase in British older adults, it is increasingly important to focus on finding strategies to maintain and improve good health and wellbeing in the older population,” said Dr Van den Heuvel.
“It is very important to find ways to increase protein intake using interventions that people can keep up at home.”