3D printed food - bringing back the pleasure of eating to patients who can no longer chew

Included in a recent episode (3/8/2016) of the Digital Human on BBC Radio 4 I heard this intriguing interview with Dr. Kjeld van Bommel speaking about the PERFORMANCE project, talking about opportunities for the care of the elderly and patients who are unable to chew, using 3D printing technology.

Within the PERFORMANCE project, funded by the EU, they are working on the development of a food printer for elderly people with dysphagia (chewing and swallowing problems). These people generally eat pureed food (think of baby food) which makes the eating much less pleasurable and thus decreases “Quality of Life”. In addition, these people may eat less, leading to malnutrition and thus additional health problems and a further loss of Quality of Life.

Already there are products on the market where the pureed food has been reshaped into a shape that looks a bit more like the original, however some of it is done by hand and the products do not look that great. The Performance project develops a printer that can turn the purees back into their original shapes but additionally the printer will be able to make personalised products. This means that, for example, each carrot (or other product) will be tuned to the person eating it. The factors that will be personalised are: hardness, size, caloric content, added nutrients (proteins, fats, but also micronutrients like calcium, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids). This personalisation is something that cannot be done by normal food production equipment and it would be very expensive by hand. By making printed personalised food each elderly consumer (with dysphagia) will get the right kind of nutrients for their body and will enjoy eating more, thus leading to better health and better quality of life (and also lower healthcare costs!).

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