She suggests one way to use the nutrition facts on packaging is to read the percent of daily value for the various nutrients. Look at how many grams of a nutrient are in a serving, and then compare to the recommended daily value (or percent), which is how much you should have for the whole day.
Brand loyalty also can help in this area. If you find nutrients in one brand of lunchmeat, turkey for example, that meets your goals, other luncheon meats from that brand often will match your goals.
Eating smaller and more often only works when you become a label bookworm. Grabbing a yogurt from the fridge may seem perfect for that mid-day snack, but the nutrition facts will unveil whether you are getting more calories than if you had decided to grab a handful of chips.
Antioxidants are important for your diet. Think of them as soldiers fighting the battle for you. Antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals in your body, which can cause damage such as cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants reduce the damage done by other foods and the aging process itself.
"Consumers view blueberries as healthy because they know and trust them, often from lifelong association," says Jeannette Ferrary, a spokesperson for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif. "Almost all diet programs, trendy and traditional, include blueberries. Virtually fat-free, low in sodium, carbohydrates and cholesterol, blueberries are a delicious source of fiber, minerals, folate and vitamins."
In a recent study testing the effects of blueberries, Ferrary said, preliminary results show that people who ate a cup of blueberries a day performed 5-6 percent better on motor skills tests than the control group.
The compound that appears responsible for neuron protection, anthocyanin, also gives blueberries their color and might be the key component of the blueberry's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries, along with other colorful fruits and vegetables, test high in their ability to subdue free radicals. These free radicals, which can damage cell membranes and DNA through a process known as oxidative stress, are blamed for many of the dysfunctions and diseases associated with aging.
"Food processors can make use of this ‘blue advantage' by incorporating blueberries in their convenient and always-available forms: whole, diced, fresh, dried, freeze-dried, puree, concentrate or juice," she says.
Whole grains in products are growing rapidly, according to the Whole Grains Council. In the U.S., consumption of whole grains increased 20 percent from 2005-2008, and consumers worldwide are beginning to understand the importance of enjoying more whole grains.
Sixty percent of Americans consumed at least one whole grain product during a typical two-week period.
Keeping the brain healthy is vital as people age, and omega-3 fatty acids can improve focus and decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Adding a couple of helpings of fish to your menu will help, and there are ways to get omega-3s if you are not a seafood fan. Omega-3s are fatty acids essential to human health and play an important role throughout the life cycle.
Populations that consume large amounts of fish tend to have a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and many other chronic diseases.
DSM Nutritional Products, a Dutch ingredients supplier with U.S. headquarters in Parsippany, N.J., has amassed a broad portfolio of omega-3 products, having acquired North America's two leading providers about 15 months apart. First it was Martek Biosciences Corp. of Maryland in early 2011, then Ocean Nutrition Canada in mid-2012.
They form the marine bio-lipids leg of a global Nutritional Lipids platform. The two acquisitions were added to DSM's ROPUFA line of marine-derived polyunsaturated fatty acids.
DSM also added Fortitech Inc., a U.S.-based maker of nutrient premixes, at the very end of last year.
"Fish is beneficial to health as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also known as 'long chain omega-3s," says DSM marketing materials. These two important essential fatty acids are important for health and are associated with a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, as well as brain and eye health. "When people want to increase their intake of fish oils and it is not possible or preferable, then long chain omega-3 supplements and foods enriched with long chain omega-3s become an important source of these vital nutrients."
Less salt and sodium also are high on the health list for seniors. Potassium chloride is the most widely used substitute. Variants are marketed by Cargill Inc. (SodiumSense and FlakeSelect), Nu-Tek Salt (Advanced Formula Potassium Chloride), Morton Salt (KaliSel) and Wixon (KCLean Salt).
Dr. Paul Lohmann Inc. takes a different approach, mixing various mineral salts to come up with lower-sodium salt products under its LomaSalt brand. ICL Performance Products takes sea salt derived from Israel's Dead Sea for a naturally low-sodium salt called Salona.
All are good additions to a product developer's toolbox, especially since studies have shown that 75 percent of a consumer's sodium comes from prepared foods.
Most consumers know adding fiber to your diet helps to avoid constipation, but it also lowers the risk of chronic diseases and keeps you feeling fuller longer. And getting fiber doesn't have to be gnawing on roughage. It can be like eating ice cream or even snacking.
Inulin, a dietary fiber from chicory root, is easy to use because it is invisible in water and has many applications. Cargil's Oliggo-Fiber inulin is used in applications ranging from beverages to ice cream, and the company in moving into the areas of snack foods such as pretzels and drink mixes such as a mango flavored white tea mix.
"Inulin can be added to all sorts of things as a source of dietary fiber," says Deborah Schulz, product manager for Cargill Health and Nutrition, Wayzata, Minn.
"Inulin helps replace the fat and sugar in many products. In baked good it can help replace high intensity sweetners and still have the bulk that sweetners provide. You can take out the sugar in a cookie, for example, but still look like a cookie with our dietary fiber source."
She also notes that the prebiotic properties of inulin help maintain the digestive tract's good bacteria.
Whether it's playing with the grandkids or rafting the Colorado River, the aging population wants an active and healthy life. Food processors can help make consumers with nutritious choices.
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.