Insufficient food intake can have more causes than dysphagia, the medical term for swallowing disorders, but it is a very common problem for the elderly. It risks leading to age-related malnutrition that makes us more frail, which often leads to lack of independence, fall accidents and hospitalization. It not only causes suffering for the individual, but also entails great costs for society. In Sweden alone, the cost of age-related malnutrition is estimated to SEK 9 billion annually.
Mats Stading studies how materials science can be used to produce food that is easy to chew and swallow, but still resembles ordinary food as much as possible. It starts with producing a slow-flowing, so-called viscoelastic paste with different textures and flavors adapted to personal needs. 3D-printed food is produced by "printing" the paste into shapes similar to regular food, and then baking it to a firm, but easily chewable and swallowable consistency.
“The research results clearly show that food consistency can be modified making it easier to both chew and swallow safely, and still remaining tasty. When combining this with 3D printing, we can produce exciting meals that look a lot like regular food”, says Mats Stading, adjunct professor at Chalmers.
The 3D-printer could be seen as any other kitchen appliance
The idea is to be able to serve 3D printed food both in nursing homes and in a home environment. The technology exists and as has been proven to work, but there are a number of measures required for it to work in clinical or home setting. An important part is that food producers are involved and develop products that can be used on a larger scale.
“In the future, 3D printed food will probably be a regular feature, but initially extra support may be required if something goes wrong. The 3D printer's speed and specifications are still somewhat limited, but technology development is progressing quickly in this area”, says Astrid Ahlinder, researcher at RISE.
The research is drawing great interest in Japan, which has the oldest population in the world. Here, Japan's ambassador gets a demonstration on how to 3D-print food.
The research is important because many countries have an increasingly high proportion of elderly, in Sweden 20 percent are over 65 and in Japan the corresponding figure is as high as 30 percent. Mats Stading has also collaborated with, among others, Japanese researchers regarding 3D printed food.
“There is great interest in both countries, so it has been a natural collaboration. We also had the opportunity to combine the research on 3D-printed food with other studies that examine exercise and social interaction. It is important to look at a whole picture to prevent frailty and not just individual parts”, Mats states.
Do you want to know more about 3D-printed food?
Contact Mats Stading
if you want to know more about the research on 3D-printed food.
Text & photo: Marcus Folino