Two new papers have been published investigating how eggs could offer an opportunity to increase protein intake and help prevent muscle decline in older people, based on research by a team at Bournemouth University, part-funded by the British Egg Industry Council.
Protein is needed for the growth and repair of body cells and tissues; as people age, loss in muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia) can increase protein requirements. An adequate intake of high quality protein from sources such as eggs could help to prevent the degeneration of skeletal muscle.
The researchers noted that as a nutrient-dense, high quality source of protein, of soft texture and easy to cook, eggs are an ideal food for older people. However, UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data show that current intake of eggs and egg dishes in older adults is only 2% of daily total energy intake, and only 3% of average daily protein intake.
The new research projects considered a number of potential strategies which may help increase egg consumption in older age groups.
The first paper, published online in September in the Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, entitled Could Eggs Help Increase Dietary Protein Intake in Older Adults? – Exploring Reasons for the Consumption and Non-Consumption of Eggs in People over 55 years old, identifies reasons for eating or not eating eggs in a sample of 42 British adults over the age of 55 years.
Many of the reasons apply to food intake in general, or to other protein-rich foods, but some were specific to eggs and the older population, including: the properties of the food (such as texture and flavour) and convenience (culinary skills, effort and time to prepare) combined with physical health/abilities (eating abilities, sensory abilities, and physical abilities).
One of the authors of the paper, Katherine Appleton, said: “The number and range of reasons provided for eating or not eating eggs are interesting, but the comments that combine the characteristics of eggs with the impacts of age on eating are particularly valuable.”
Sensory analyses with older adults have previously shown that eggs were popular for their soft texture. Moreover, for foods that are difficult to chew like meat, the chewing ability of older adults as well as the processing method (minced beef vs beef steak) can affect the postprandial digestion and absorption rates of the protein, meaning that even when people do eat meat they may not benefit optimally from the protein provided.
Eggs are also notably much easier to prepare than many other protein-rich foods, and ease of preparation in terms of effort and time as well as skills and abilities was specifically mentioned by some of the participants in the study.
The second paper, Towards a Food-Based Intervention to Increase Protein Intakes in Older Adults: Challenges to and Facilitators of Egg Consumption, published online in October in Nutrients, reports on the findings of a detailed questionnaire on egg intake and eating habits, completed by 230 older adults across the UK.
Strongest associations were found between a higher habitual egg intake and greater liking and/or greater agreement that eggs are tasty and add variety to the diet; higher agreement that eggs are an everyday type of food; less agreement that a certain type of person eats eggs; and greater agreement with eating less with ageing.
Studies have shown that improving flavour by adding spices, flavour enhancers or sauces can increase intakes of protein-rich foods in older adults. Associations with agreement that eggs are an everyday type of food would suggest a benefit from promoting eggs in this manner.
The findings also suggest that there are two different types of high egg consumer — those who consume a lot of eggs on a habitual basis in specific (regular) circumstances and those who consume eggs in a lot of dishes and recipes. These findings suggest benefit from recipes for novel dishes, to increase taste, flavour and variety, to encourage egg intakes in older adults, and to include those who prefer a more habitual consumption, simple everyday recipes that involve well known combinations of eggs and other foods, such as bacon or ham, may be particularly successful.
Additional findings demonstrating an association between habitual egg intake and less agreement that eggs are good value for money are surprising, but it is possible that individuals do not want to admit value – or cost-based judgements. The findings, however, suggest that strategies that promote value-for-money may be counterproductive.
Findings related to lower agreement that eggs may increase cholesterol or risk of heart disease suggest that campaigns that continue to address misconceptions that eggs are associated with specific health risks may be beneficial.
Katherine Appleton comments: ‘Our results suggest that strategies to increase egg consumption should focus on: improving tastiness and adding variety; promoting eggs as an everyday type of food; reducing stereotypes about who does and who does not consume eggs; and promoting eggs for people who have noticed the effects of ageing on their food intake.’
The researchers concluded that future work evaluating the value of these strategies for increasing protein intake in this age group would clearly be of value.