We’re all growing older.
No, not just in the chronological sense, but demographically.
According to the 2016 Population Reference Bureau report, the number of Americans 65 years and older is projected to double from about 46 million currently to as many as 100 million by 2060, making that group of elderly nearly one-quarter of the entire U.S. population.
Sadly, I’m contributing to that ongoing development myself; sorry about that, demographers.
Of course, the pertinent factor in the aging of America is the increasing life expectancy among adults, from an average of 68 years in 1950 — the year I showed up in the birth rate statistics — to nearly 80 years, as of the latest calculation in 2013.
While an aging population that’s living longer is good news for those of us in the cohort of baby boomers, that trend creates challenges. More older adults are now living alone, especially women aged 75 and older: nearly one-half of that group lives alone, which creates a need for healthcare and home care services that can burden existing delivery systems.
Likewise, the number of elderly requiring nursing home care is expected to almost double from about 1.3 million to more than 2.4 million in just over 10 years. And as people live longer, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple to more than 14 million adults by mid-century.
I Scream for Meat/Ice cream
Okay, enough of grim statistics. Let’s move on to a development targeting older adults that’s a whole lot more upbeat.
In a new study published in Food Research International titled, “Novel meat-enriched foods for older consumers,” researchers at the Ruakura Research Centre in New Zealand noted that many older adults struggle to consume enough protein in their daily diets when subsisting on the “traditional” foods they’ve always eaten during their lifetimes.
Meat especially can cause problems. Due to the expense involved, the added effort of preparation and cooking and issues with dentition that make eating meat more difficult, many seniors reduce or abandon their consumption of beef, pork and chicken.
That can cause a precipitous drop in protein consumption, which prompted the research team to explore alternatives, in this case, adding meat to various popular staples.
“Red meat-enriched versions of bread, spaghetti, yogurt, ice cream and chocolate were prototyped and assessed for some of their physical, chemical and microbiological properties, as well as sensory appeal,” the researchers reported, noting that “the protein content of the products was significantly increased.”
For the food scientists in the crowd, you should know the study demonstrated that, “bread volume and spaghetti tensile strength increased, and ice cream meltability and yogurt viscosity decreased with meat enrichment.”
Good to know.
More to the point, the team reported that the “overall acceptability” of the meat-enhanced bread, spaghetti and ice cream were unaffected, and 75% of the 940 study subjects who ate the meat-enriched chocolates loved or liked them.
Look, let’s cut to the chase here: Skip the testing on meat-enriched spaghetti. Who cares?
But meat-enriched chocolate and ice cream? When I’m doddering around with my walker in my bathrobe and slippers — God willing — I want to be able to demand of whatever poor soul is overseeing my care, “I need my ice cream, to get my protein, ya whippersnapper!”
Okay, I’ve never used the word whippersnapper in my entire life, but somehow in the (hopefully) distant future, it just seems like I might go to the “get-off-my-lawn” card.
As the New Zealand researchers concluded, “The outcome of the present study would assist in making the nutrition of meat available in a wider range of product categories, helping the meat industry stretch its established business models, and encouraging further development of novel food choices for elderly and other groups of consumers.”
Bottom line: There’s at least one development to look forward to as old age creeps up on us all.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.