Volume 12, Number 17 April 29, 2005

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Student follows up successful study on fibre for seniors

By David Hutton

PhD student Wendy Dahl.

PhD student Wendy Dahl.

Photo by David Hutton

Wendy Dahl’s work at the U of S never seems to stop.

The Pharmacy and Nutrition doctoral graduate, who has four degrees from the University, recently added another finding to her ever-growing list of research accomplishments.

Dahl’s recent study was on the fortification of puree foods with fibre intended for home-care residents who have trouble chewing and swallowing. Dahl was able to establish regulated standards for pureed foods through her research, which showed that finely ground pea-hull fibre is ideally suited for such foods.

As a result of the research, home-care residents experiencing dysphagia – having difficulty swallowing – will be able to get adequate fibre in their diet, which has a therapeutic effect.

Often patients don’t have enough oral control to manipulate food particles, notes Dahl. “Large pieces can be pocketing in the cheeks, which causes dental problems and an aspiration risk.”

A major part of Dahl’s study was establishing the optimal ratio of soluble to insoluble fibre. As a result of her research, textural standards for pureed foods have been established, a point that Dahl is particularly proud of but had not expected when she started her research.

“The research went into a totally different path then I had planned. It’s been smooth. What I’ve done is simply find good opportunities to follow and ended up doing way more than I originally thought I’d do.”

However, the project was not always going to be Dahl’s to complete.

The researcher initially planned on finding funding for the study and then passing the torch to an assistant to see the project to completion. However, at a backyard barbecue, a friend suggested that she use the funding as an opportunity to pursue her PhD. She agreed and began work soon after.

The genesis of the project came from Dahl’s own field observation. Working for the Heartland Health Region where she supervised eight long-term care facilities, Dahl says she saw firsthand evidence that more fibre was needed in the diets of the facilities’ residents.

“I have a really good understanding of the way the health care system works and that ensured that things were going to go to application, because I knew what was needed out there.”

“There were constant complaints about constipation from residents,” she says. “The nurses who were working in the facilities kept saying ‘do something about this’. So I did.”

Dahl’s initial study, to which the pureed food findings is a follow-up, recommended an overall increase in fibre for long-term care residents, and has been very well received since its 2003 publication.

“It’s out there,” says Dahl, speaking to the results of the study.

“As a former practitioner I was aiming to do something practical. A lot of what I’ve done bridges the gap between nutrition and agriculture, the harder sciences, and practice.”

“It’s something I think the University needs more of. I would like to see research geared more towards the needs of practitioners.”

After the interview, Dahl was on her way to San Diego to attend her “last conference as a student”. The underlying purpose, however, was to “take a walk on the beach” to decide where she goes from here.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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