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When ageing is just a matter of taste...

Remember when food tasted and smelled really exciting? If the aroma of fresh baking, the flavour of fruit, all seem a bit dull these days it's probably a sign of ageing - you, not the food.

Sensitivity to taste and smell decreases as we get older. At around 60 it is noticeable and by 70 the effects can be quite severe, according to HortResearch's sensory science team.

Latest figures show that 30 percent of New Zealand's population is 35 -57 years of age, and 19 percent is over 58. That's nearly half the population. By 2006, 30 percent of population will be over 50, yet little is known about the food preferences and attitudes that shape the food choices of the older generation. A decrease in eating pleasure can lead to poor choices in food, loss of appetite and so a decreased intake of vital nutrients.

Through its Food for Life programme, HortResearch is taking major steps toward understanding the importance of food - particularly fruit and vegetable extracts - in the anti-ageing equation.

A special sensory team has been set up, designed to work with people 60 years old and over. The team has put in place a 60+ sensory panel called AgeFocus that is currently involved in benchmarking work in a number of key food and beverage categories - a world first.

HortResearch is also developing a major US science collaboration involving Dr James Joseph at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing in Boston, USA.

During a recent visit to New Zealand to speak at a workshop on "Berryfruit, Nutraceuticals and the Food Industry" Dr Joseph was excited by advances made by HortResearch in its berryfruit breeding programme and in exploring the link to nutraceutical (antioxidant) benefits to consumers.

Antioxidants are natural substances found in fruits and vegetables which neutralise free radicals -- unstable oxygen molecules associated with cancer, heart disease and the effects of ageing.

Berryfruit products are a natural source of antioxidants. The colour of varieties developed by HortResearch indicates an exceptionally high measure of antioxidant potential. Collaborative research with Dr Joseph will focus on identifying the specific compounds responsible for blueberries' beneficial effects in combatting some of the degenerative and cognitive effects of ageing.


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