What Canada’s new food guide means for seniors

In a marked departure from the previous version, the new Canada Food Guide calls for a different approach to how we fill our plate.

For many people, especially seniors and the elderly, the pursuit of a healthy diet based on the new guide requires a nuanced perspective.

“There are many things to consider, such as their health, quality of life, personal preferences and cultural history with food,” says Haley Pomreinke, Clinical Dietitian at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital.  

Health Canada, the agency charged with formulating the guide, now recommends that Canadians eat more plant-based food and consider water as the drink of choice.

The new guide encourages more home cooking and dining in the company of others instead of eating alone. It discourages eating processed foods, especially those high in salt, sugar or saturated fat. And it is asking everyone to be aware of the ingredient list of foods they purchase.

Gone are the food groups; in their stead is a plate half filled by fruits and vegetables and a quarter each by proteins and whole grains. In the old 2007 version, milk and meat had top billing. Now they have been relegated to being just another member of the protein choir.

Haley points out the new food guide is good for everyday Canadians because it is based on extensive research. “It is a great document—very simple and easy to follow.” She also notes the new guide no longer offers specific serving recommendations, instead encouraging people to pay attention to when they are hungry or full.

Because seniors have unique circumstances, “we might not be able to go all the way in terms of encouraging a plant-based diet and so we have to meet them in the middle,” Haley says.

She notes that even eating on a regular basis can be challenging for some seniors because they can feel like it’s too much effort or they may have health issues.

“Some seniors lack the motivation to eat if they are alone. Preparing a meal can feel daunting because it’s hard to cook for one and so they don’t want to bother with cooking.”

Haley adds, “Some seniors might have dementia, mental health issues, difficulty swallowing and decreased appetite or chronic diseases, so they need help with nutrition. And the food guide does not necessarily apply to these populations.”  

No matter where they live, Haley notes, seniors and the elderly might struggle to have access to groceries. Some seniors may have mobility issues and may find it difficult to move around the kitchen. 

However, she emphasizes that programs or services such as Meals on Wheels can help deliver groceries or freshly cooked food to seniors. “Microwaving precooked or frozen food can be the middle ground," she says. "It is certainly better than skipping a meal.”

Haley says it’s always good to consult with a diet and nutrition expert. “A dietitian can certainly provide seniors with some help and can connect them with some food- and nutrition-related services.”

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