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Research into the importance of protein and why older generations don't consume enough in their diets.

Protein4Life was a collaborative research project led by Newcastle University. It examined the drivers and barriers to increased protein consumption from the age of 40 and into later life beyond the age of 70.

A natural symptom of ageing is loss of muscle mass and strength. Good protein intake can minimise the loss. This in turn reduces the risk of frailty and weakened resistance to disease and infection. This has a direct healthcare cost in UK over-70s of £2.5 billion a year.

Industry partners

Seven companies from the food and drink industry contributed to the research:

  • Campden BRI
  • Nestlé
  • Mondelez International
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Pladis
  • Bradgate Bakery
  • Premier Foods

They provided expertise around the technical challenges of adding more protein to products. They also shared feedback from their market research into customers’ attitudes towards protein.

Seven companies from the food and drink industry contributed to the research providing expertise around technical challenges and customer feedback.

Conveying the importance of protein

Kerry Whiteside, Innovation Project Manager at Bradgate Bakery, which is a part of the Samworth Brothers group, says: “We supported Protein4Life because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about getting older people to eat the appropriate amount of protein for their biological needs. We looked at the food industry can help that process by developing products that meet that protein need.”

The findings of the Protein4Life research show that while public health messages about salt, sugar and fat are getting through to people, there is widespread need for further education about the importance of protein.

Emma Stevenson, Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at Newcastle University's Faculty of Medical Sciences, says: “Besides the poor understanding of the benefits of protein, another barrier to protein intake is cost. Many higher protein foods are expensive and may not be part of the habitual diet of many older adults.”

She explains there are also issues around palatability and the fact that older adults tend to lose their appetite. “So, the goal is protein-rich food that tastes good, isn’t too filling and isn’t too expensive.”


Changing diets

The hope now is that the food industry can use the guidelines to provide tasty higher-protein foods that suit older adults.

Emma and the Protein4Life academic team, which includes colleagues at the universities of Bristol, Sheffield, Liverpool and Aberdeen, are planning to apply for more UK Government funding with industry partners. The work will look closer at the multiple benefits of higher-protein products.