March is National March for Meals month and a time when agencies such as CCSH celebrate their fabulous meal programs for older adults. With this in mind I will devote this column to the virtues of a healthy, well-balanced diet for seniors.

As people age there are many factors influencing their ability to adopt and sustain nutritional well being. Once a senior has determined their dietary health is being compromised, a consultation with a healthcare professional is advisable. Seek assistance to evaluate your specific nutritional needs based on medical history and current health profile, assess whether you need to follow a special diet, and recommend any necessary supplements.

The ideal older adult needs to include choices in their diet that are:
• Nutrient dense – low in fat and sodium, high in fiber and calcium, with a moderate calorie count
• Flavourful to make mealtime a desired activity as opposed to a chore
• Easy to chew, swallow, digest
• Simple to prepare
• Appealing to the eye as well as the palate

This sounds like an insurmountable task but it can be easier than many seniors think.
• Focus on good “carbs” – opt for whole grain nutrition (brown rice, whole wheat bread, rolled oats, barley) rather than refined “white” products
• Remember raw equals roughage! Eliminate constipation, aid digestion, and preserve nutritional value by eating at least one daily serving of fruits and veggies raw.
• Steam your veggies to preserve the nutrients. If you must boil, save the liquid for soup stock.
• Go lean on protein – lighten up on the red meats and salty meats. Fish, poultry, beans, peas, eggs, nuts and tofu all count as protein so the healthy choices are many and varied
• Bone up on calcium – not all dairy products are created equally. Milk, cheese and yogurt retain their calcium content while cream cheese, cream and butter do not.
• Choose first rate fats such as olive and sunflower oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
• Keep it moist – in addition to drinking adequate quantities of water each day, aim to consume foods with a high water content such as melons, cucumbers, apples, grapes, cabbage, and many types of soups

Now that you are aware of all the components of a nutritionally balanced diet for older adults, the next step requires recognition of your bad habits and overcoming these obstacles to get started down the road to good health.
• If your current diet contains a lot of highly processed foods, sweets, sodium and caffeine, just eliminate one thing at a time.
• Focus on establishing good habits as opposed to just eliminating bad ones. Cut out the sweets, but add some healthy fruit at the same time.
• Reward yourself with non-food items as you achieve small victories.

So back to the March for Meals celebration; on Wed. March 28th we will have local celebrities helping us deliver our hot meals to our many clients in the community. We have recently hired a Red Seal Chef as part of our staffing complement and this has proved to be a very successful venture. Five days a week Isabelle prepares a fresh, home-style meal that is nutritionally appropriate for anyone, but particularly planned for those that are 60+ and living in our catchment area. Call us for more information as our meals are a wonderful alternative for caregivers and their loved ones and those of us who just do not like cooking for one.