Enhancing nutrition for older adults through nanotechnology

December 5, 2023

Aging often brings challenges such as alterations in taste, smell, chewing, and swallowing, leading to insufficient eating and malnutrition. To address these issues, INL scientists are actively developing advanced technologies for food fortification and customised textures, aiming to promote a more balanced diet for seniors.

A particularly promising strategy involves the creation of personalised foods to meet the unique nutritional needs of the elderly. Arlete Marques, a PhD fellow supported by FCT, is developing her research in collaboration with INL and the Centre of Biological Engineering at the University of Minho. Arlete emphasises that “this approach not only ensures that seniors meet their nutritional requirements but also aligns with their individual preferences”.

One aspect of this research focuses on crafting an alternative protein-based meat-like product tailored for older individuals with swallowing difficulties. The INL Food Processing and Nutrition research group explores nanotechnology to enrich the food with iron and folic acid. The group has developed micro and nanoparticles that can lead to a better absorption of the micronutrients in the digestive system.

In terms of food texture, the team is working with Aspergillus oryzae, a filamentous fungus that is widely used in food fermentation, particularly in Asian countries. Aspergillus oryzae is valued for its role in the fermentation of soybeans to produce soy sauce and miso, as well as in the fermentation of rice to make sake. In this research, INL researchers combined this fungus with calcium and alginate, found in algae, to achieve the desired texture. Lastly, 3D food printing is being used to create a fibrous, meat-like appearance.

This ground-breaking research significantly contributes to the development of personalised products designed to enhance nutrition for the elderly, thereby mitigating the risk of malnutrition and addressing swallowing difficulties.