Mary Ellen Kuhn

Chromeless Video Player branded for IFT

Loss of muscle mass is one of the perils of aging, and snack products to help address it can provide a valuable benefit to older adults. Sarcopenia—age-related loss of lean muscle—starts at age 40, and progresses at a rate of about 5% decade, speeding up after age 65.

But designing such products requires an understanding of the metabolism of aging adults and how ingredients will function in the body, explains IFT Wellness 14 conference speaker Deepa Shenoy, Senior Research Scientist-Open Innovation, Amway Global R&D. Many of the protein products currently on the market are making bold claims that aren’t supported by scientific data, she says. Creating products that deliver bona fide benefits, grounded in strong science, will require more research and a multidisciplinary approach, according to Shenoy.

“Developing a product for a particular benefit like … protein for muscle health is not just about quantity, taste, and source,” she says. “It’s about an integrative approach where multiple sciences—which may include an understanding of human physiology to cellular mechanistic pathways—will need to be applied.”

Skeletal muscle, which is critical to protecting internal organs and allowing for optimal bodily function, accounts for 50% of total body mass, and age-related muscle loss can have a devastating impact on overall health and wellness. “The loss of skeletal muscle not only affects movement, but strength, posture, respiration, and other vital functions,” says Shenoy. “The progression of loss in skeletal muscle mass is always in sync to degeneration in the health of other organs.

“There’s no medicine for addressing sarcopenia,” Shenoy observes, “[so] consumers are relying on the food industry.” Some supplement products currently on the market are effective in promoting muscle synthesis post-exercise or in deficiency situations such as during recovery from surgery, but they’re not as effective in a non-exercising population that is aging but relatively healthy, she notes. 

Shenoy sees the potential for protein-based snacks to deliver important benefits for consumers who are aging normally (and losing muscle mass as might be expected, particularly among those who are sedentary), but it will require a focused product development initiative. Product developers and marketers need to think carefully about exactly what benefits their products will be positioned to deliver. “A snack product formulated to help with the body’s macronutrient requirements will follow a different new product development strategy vs a snack that is focused on prevention of an age-related disease state such as sarcopenia, obesity, or diabetes,” she says.

“New research in understanding biological pathways at a physiological, cellular, and molecular level—when applied to product development—can help develop products beyond just a new source, taste, texture, or grams of protein—to actual smarter and better benefits and functional claims,” says Shenoy.

Getting to that point will require cross-functional collaboration, she emphasizes. “A multidisciplinary effort in product formulation is desired, and such efforts are being seen in strategic partnerships between ‘nutra’ and ‘pharma’ industries, suppliers, and manufacturers to meet healthy aging consumer trends, but we have a long way to go. A deeper interpretation of the workings of a healthy body will need to be captured in food and beverage development.” FT