Creating tasty, nutritious dysphagia products
Dysphagia describes the eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties that people experience when the epiglottis (the flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat) and the muscles around it don’t work properly to close off the windpipe when eating and drinking. Food and fluids can therefore enter the lungs - everyone can relate to the feeling of food ‘going down the wrong way’ - but this choking can be an everyday occurrence for those suffering from dysphagia.
A whole industry exists to offer specialised powder thickeners and ready-to-eat products to cater to this market. But creating nutritionally balanced, great tasting products for those suffering from dysphagia can be a tricky business. That’s why many manufacturers are seeking ways in which to improve their dysphagia products to offer patients better quality foods, allowing them to get the nourishment they need as enjoyably as possible.
A growing problem
Globally, dysphagia affects around 8% of the population (~560 million people), which can occur at any age, but tends to be more prevalent in infants and older people. For example, it can affect up to 1 in 5 older adults, as it can be caused by a number of health issues, such as dementia or a stroke. This means that people in institutions can often have a higher propensity to suffer from dysphagia; it has been found to affect 50-75% of nursing home residents in the UK.
At the same time, it’s widely accepted that the global population is ageing. The UN’s report, World Population Ageing 2017, found that the number of older people is expected to double by 2050, reaching nearly 2.1 billion across the globe. As dysphagia disproportionately affects the elderly, many food manufacturers understand that there is an increasing need for specialised senior nutrition.
According to the report ‘Markets and Markets’ Dysphagia Related Product Market: Global Forecast to 2022’, there has been a rapid increase in dysphagia patients and this, combined with the predicted growth in the elderly population, means that the market for dysphagia products will see significant growth by 2022. The global dysphagia product market was valued at $1,921.2 million in 2015 and is projected to reach $2,927.1 million by 2022, at a CAGR of 6.2%, and the largest market is currently North America. This offers many opportunities for food manufacturers to create new products and innovations to meet this growing demand.
Creating foods and liquids with a modified texture or rheology to help patients easily swallow food items is an established practice in the management of dysphagia. But it’s not just the texture; the nutritional levels must also be right as this is the only sustenance that patients will receive. And it’s also important to make them taste great and for patients to enjoy eating them. Very few of us could imagine a world without food and it can be a very difficult experience for patients who must suddenly switch to powdered drinks or liquid food and lose the ritual of eating meals.
Manufacturers can achieve this balance with Steam Infusion. The innovative cooking technology allows manufacturers to maintain the nutritional elements of the raw ingredients, from fruit and vegetables to meat and dairy. Our research with University of Lincoln found that with potatoes and carrots, our ability to cook much faster with Steam Infusion allowed manufacturers to retain more vitamins and minerals against conventional systems when cooled immediately after cooking, delivering a more balanced end product to the market.
What’s more, Steam Infusion's shortened cooking times allow you to retain the natural colours of fruits and vegetables, creating naturally brighter foods without the use of colour enhancers. In addition, the prevention of burn-on contamination can have a significant impact on the flavour profiles of a product, as well as the overall look, offering tastier and more appealing products to patients. As can be seen in the image, the tub on the left was produced in a saucepan, the middle tub was produced with Steam Infusion and the one on the right was cooked with a steam jacket. It’s clear to see that Steam Infusion delivers much more appealing products.
Cooking high dairy fat content products with Steam Infusion can enable you to achieve a 20% reduction in fat whilst maintaining an indulgent and luxurious mouthfeel. This is because the unique Steam Infusion processing environment manipulates starch to form a fat mimetic which enhances the creamy mouthfeel, enabling a reduction in overall fat content. It also means that you can keep the viscosity low to facilitate swallowing (or transfer through tubes) as well as reducing expensive starch additions while maintaining the required thickness.