Long-term care residents get protein-infused ice cream thanks to Acadia research

·2 min read
Kitchen aids hold the protein-enhanced ice cream at the Heart of the Valley long-term care facility in Middleton. (Tracy Frazier - image credit)
Kitchen aids hold the protein-enhanced ice cream at the Heart of the Valley long-term care facility in Middleton. (Tracy Frazier - image credit)

Residents at a long-term care facility in Middleton, N.S., who have trouble eating have a new menu item to ensure they get their essential nutrients — protein-enhanced thickened ice cream.

According to an Acadia University study, more than half of people living in long-term care facilities suffer from dysphagia — difficulty swallowing usually caused by other health complications or aging.

The condition can cause nutritional deficiencies.

People with dysphagia often have specific diet plans involving pureed foods that allow them to swallow safely, but many don't like the appearance of the food. Regular ice cream isn't permitted because it isn't thick enough and could pose a choking risk.

Judy Lowe, a dietitian at Heart of the Valley Long Term Care Centre in Middleton, said it's gratifying to provide a safe form of ice cream to residents who haven't had it in years.

"They're excited to eat the ice cream," Lowe said. "You can tell when someone is getting something they like to eat and the fact that they didn't leave any ice cream in the bowl spoke volumes to us."

What is protein-enhanced thickened ice cream?

Lowe worked with researchers at Acadia University to create the ice cream.

They melted commercial vanilla ice cream and added whey protein and a thickening agent to ensure it was safe for long-term care residents to swallow. After putting the ingredients through a food processor, they refroze the liquid to turn it into ice cream.

Lowe said the product is affordable and effective.

"Whey protein is the cheapest and most acceptable form of protein," Lowe said. "The ice cream increased protein content in their diets, increased fluid in their diets and wound prevention and maintained skin integrity."

Matthew McSweeney
Matthew McSweeney

Taylor McDowell worked on the study as part of the research component of her program at Acadia. She emphasized the importance of using adequate thickening agents to ensure safe consumption.

She based her research on meeting an international standard for texture and thickness. They used a modified corn-starch to attain the thickness that is "the most appropriate for ice cream," McDowell said.

What does it taste like?

Before introducing the ice cream at Heart of the Valley, researchers at Acadia conducted a study. None of the 56 participants noticed a taste change between the thickened ice cream and protein-enhanced product.

Matthew McSweeney, a dietetics professor at Acadia, said the acceptability of the protein-enhanced ice cream is exciting.

"The study showed that we could add the protein and not change any of the sensory properties of the ice cream," McSweeney said. "That's exactly what Judy and Taylor were hoping for."

Heart of The Valley is the only long-term care facility using the ice cream, but the Acadia trio hopes others will be encouraged.