Thanks to the European Union–funded PERFORMANCE project, people with trouble chewing and swallowing (dysphagia) may no longer be relegated to the unpalatable mush and fortified nutrition shakes that can lead to malnutrition. Specially textured food created by 3-D printers made its debut at a conference in Brussels last week and could be the answer to improving senior citizens’ quality of life, since nobody (but nobody) wants to subsist on vitamin-infused, highly processed baby food for years on end. The printing material can be customized for the specific protein, carbohydrate, fat, omega-3 and calcium needs of a senior or medical patient.
This technology isn’t limited to those with restrictive eating conditions, however. Food can be printed to maximize nutritional calories for athletes and pregnant women, too. Really, the sky’s the limit. Using versatile, natural and highly nutritious ingredients like algae, insect protein, seeds and vitamin and mineral-packed plants, this new technology can print food from sustainable sources in shapes with as much function as flavor (think mini pie shells, appealing geometric shapes and varied textures versus…well, mush).
Complete with a logistics system that involves the patient in the menu-creation process, specially engineered plates that provide even microwave heating to avoid hot and cool spots and other features that tailor the printed food to patients’ specific needs, the PERFORMANCE printing technology may be a giant leap forward in keeping seniors and patients with specific nutritional needs happy, healthy and well-fed. Preliminary tests have shown favorable results…compared to, say, a bottle of Ensure with a bendy straw.