By 2050, a staggering 11 countries in Asia Pacific will be defined as “super-aged societies” 1. A similar trend will also be seen for the rest of the region, with as many as five and ten countries being qualified as “ageing societies” and “aged societies”, respectively.
While ageing is a natural life process, it must be accompanied with a relentless focus on health and nutrition. As we grow into our silver years, the prevalence of lifestyle-related health problems and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will increase. Nutrition plays a key role in mitigating this, alleviating the societal and economic pressures of grappling with a rapidly ageing population.
Preventing NCDs or delaying the onset of complications that NCDs bring is high on consumers ( radar, with one of the key strategies being prevention-oriented eating, as healthy ageing and healthy eating are strongly correlated. Prevention through a balanced diet as well as an active lifestyle is now considered more important than treatment, with almost 7 in 10 over 65-year-olds saying they actively take steps to make their nutrition healthier.
Ageing healthily is a lifelong effort – with our eating and lifestyle habits strongly influencing the way we grow old. While NCDs tend to manifest in adulthood, many of the behaviours leading to these diseases are developed during childhood and adolescence2. The good news is that they are often preventable, with appropriate health interventions through better nutrition and an active lifestyle.
In a recent BENEO and Health Focus International survey3, 30% of consumers aged 50+ said that their primary reason for choosing healthy foods and beverages was to ensure their future good health. With the rise in consumer demand for healthier nutritional choices, food manufacturers today are well-placed to offer solutions that contribute to a healthy and active lifestyle, no matter the age group. This can be achieved through functional macronutrients that can be used in various applications. The right food choices can not only help seniors, but also consumers at any stage of their lives to grow into their golden years in better health, stay more active and increase their quality of life.
Keeping a close watch on blood glucose levels
Supporting the immune system is a key part of healthier ageing. As well as sustaining the gut microbiome with gut-friendly foods containing prebiotics, a key recommendation to support immunity is in managing blood glucose levels. In fact, studies4 have shown that those suffering from diabetes are at higher risk of requiring more medical treatment after being infected with COVID-19.
Having high blood glucose levels is also closely linked with being overweight, obesity, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease and more. Crucially, it is core to the prevention and management of diabetes — which, at more serious stages, may lead to complications such as stroke, heart attack, and others. With 1 in 11 South-east Asians living with diabetes, it is paramount that better strategies are devised to help consumers manage their blood glucose levels, starting with the right daily diets.
Food choices and ingredients that can reduce the blood glucose response will become increasingly important, and low glycaemic functional ingredients play a significant part in this process. In fact, the key to promoting healthy ageing through blood sugar management is via the right choice of carbohydrates.
Palatinose is a slow-release carbohydrate made from sucrose, which is naturally sourced from sugar beet. It leads to a slower and lower rise in blood glucose and insulin response. This makes it an ideal ingredient to help support blood sugar management. Because of its unique slow-release property and its low glycaemic index (GI), Palatinose is a one-of-a-kind replacement for common sugars and maltodextrin, which have high GIs. Furthermore, its mild sugar-like taste and technical properties can maintain or even improve the taste and texture of the final product.
Laying the foundation with a strong gut
Prebiotic fibre is another important nutrient for a healthy lifestyle, as it not only improves bowel movement, but also benefits the gut — where a large part of our inner defence system lies.
As people grow older, imbalances in the microbiome (dysbiosis) are common and the amount of beneficial bacteria in the intestine tends to decline, potentially exposing them to gastrointestinal discomfort, inflammation, and other diseases5.
BENEO’s prebiotic chicory root fibres, Orafti Inulin and Oligofructose, promote a healthy gut by feeding beneficial bacteria so that they grow selectively. These prebiotic fibres also improve intestinal functions such as stool regularity, prevent digestive issues such as intestinal infections and metabolic endotoxemia, and enhance intestinal barrier functions6 — all while helping to increase fibre intake.
In fact, their benefits extend beyond the gut, and may reduce the risk of developing conditions like frailty and osteoporosis. Research7 has proven that a patented blend of Oligofructose-enriched Inulin, called Orafti Synergy1 can enhance bioavailability and absorption of calcium in the diet for bone health. This can potentially prevent osteoporosis and improve conditions of patients suffering from the condition.
Pushing forth the healthy ageing goal
Food manufacturers and consumers have a collective responsibility to promote the healthy ageing agenda. As the focus on heathy ageing continues to grow, manufacturers can actively support consumer health goals by reformulating their products to incorporate healthier functional ingredients.
By providing consumers with better choices that contribute to a healthy and active lifestyle, only then can we be one step closer to achieving the healthy ageing dream.
Author - Christian Philippsen, Managing Director, BENEO Asia Pacific
1 Health at a Glance: Asia/Pacific 2020: Measuring Progress Towards Universal Health Coverage – OECD iLibrary, 2020
2 UNICEF (2020), Non-communicable disease https://www.unicef.org/health/non-communicable-diseases
3 Health Focus International, 2020 BENEO Healthy Ageing consumer research
4 BMJ 2020;369:m1985 http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1985
5 Ragonnaud, E., Biragyn, A. Gut microbiota as the key controllers of “healthy” aging of elderly people. Immun Ageing 18, 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12979-020-00213-w