Aged care residents on average consume just one serve of dairy per day, falling well short of the recommended four serves necessary for adequate protein and calcium intake, according to the results of a new study.
The study’s lead researcher Dr Sandra Iuliano from the University of Melbourne said less than a quarter of residents met the recommended intake for dairy, pointing to the need for greater awareness and education among food service providers.
She said residents were better at achieving their recommended intake for meat, compared with dairy, despite both being good sources of protein and dairy having added benefits of calcium and other nutrients.
Dr Iuliano said dairy was a versatile and relatively cheap food group and was also appropriate for residents on a texture modified diet, and therefore had an important role to play in alleviating high rates of malnutrition found in aged care.
“Ensuring adequate dairy serves are available on menus at aged care facilities will reduce malnutrition, and potentially the comorbidities and cost associated with malnutrition,” she said.
“Dairy foods are a good source of protein and can be easily consumed by the elderly, even for those on texture modified foods. Dairy can also be easily incorporated into a menu, by being added to meals, drinks or snacks.”
The study of 215 residents from 21 facilities in Victoria found that on average residents who consumed less than two serves of dairy failed to consume adequate protein and those who consumed less than one serve of dairy per day were at risk of malnutrition.
Dr Iuliano, who is a nutrition and bone health researcher, said:
“In aged care there needs to be greater awareness that dairy is a really good source of protein, and other nutrients. It is not expensive, so it’s also a cost effective way of ensuring that residents are getting the nutrition that they need.”
The findings, which were presented to the Dietitians Association of Australia’s national conference in Perth this month, are the baseline results from a large randomised trial which is aiming to reduce the fracture risk among aged care residents by 30 per cent by increasing dairy intake.
The dairy intervention study involving 60 facilities in Victoria is measuring the impact of additional dairy serves on resident bone, muscle mass, strength and function as well as on their quality of life.
The cost benefit to the facility and to the health system from reduced falls and fractures will also be analysed.
“The ultimate outcome we want is that residents are at lower risk of fractures, lower risk of falls, and they are enjoying the food at the same time.”
On average, one in 10 aged care residents experience a fall and fracture, said Dr Iuliano.
“Ideally hip fracture is the one that we want to see less of, because that is the one that is probably the most debilitating for residents.”