Healthy eating is not a simple formula; it's a unique experience for each of us that includes culture, physical health, and taste. That’s why we were excited to hear that this year’s Nutrition Month theme is “Good For You,” focused on personalizing healthy eating.
Food is home. It’s a family gathering together for Passover, a group of friends grabbing a slice of pizza, or some neighbours enjoying brunch. Meals are as much about socializing as they are about nutrition (even those meals shared virtually).. They are also a chance to explore new tastes and find moments of joy. But too often, we see food in terms of restriction – what we can and cannot eat, especially when we look at “healthy” eating.
For many, the focus on restriction can too often overpower the other psychological, emotional, and social benefits of eating. Especially, those with acute or chronic health care issues are often overwhelmed with restrictive diets that ignore the non-physical aspects of eating.
This is why at Kensington Health — at our long-term care home, hospice and active senior centre — we focus on the enjoyment of food as well as its nutritional value. Florence Nemani, clinical dietitian at Kensington Gardens, explains, “Sometimes we forget all the reasons we need food and focus on this like calorie contents, nutrients, and vitamins only. We need to consider the evidence-based information regarding the role of food our health and at the same time embrace the joy of food.”
From our work, we’ve learned a few things:
What is healthy is different for everyone.
We certainly have guidelines that can help direct our food choices, like the recently revised Canadian food guide. But there is no exact formula or diet for healthy eating. Each person’s nutritional needs are based on their culture, food traditions, and individual circumstances. Piraveena Piremathasan, member of Dieticians of Canada, explains, “The one thing I hear most frequently is how you have to forego the pleasures of enjoying food when one lives with diabetes or people living with diabetes can’t eat sugar or carbohydrates. As a result, the misinformation pushes people to cut out foods that have always been part of their diet. The question I ask these clients is “are you satisfied with the way you’re eating?”
Culture and food traditions play a big role in your personal healthy.
Food not only nourishes the body, but is part of our identity. For example, at Second Mile Club, our active senior centre, we celebrate major cultural holidays with large family style meals. Even during the pandemic, the Club has continued that tradition online. “Celebration and food go hand in hand. On days that matter to our members – like Lunar New Year – we come together to all enjoy the traditional foods eaten on those days. It’s a chance to nourish our bodies and our community, ” says Rebecca Buttigieg, Day Program Manager, Second Mile Club.
Everyone’s eating behaviours are influenced by their personal circumstances.
There are many factors that are outside someone’s control that affect their diets, such as physical health and socio-economic background. For example, an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Toronto has found that 1 in 8 households in Canada are food insecure, showing that what we eat is often defined by what food we have access to. “When people are living on limited budgets, fresh, ”healthy” food isn’t always available to them at a price they can afford or at a location they can easily access. Trying to connect individuals or families to food that meets all of their requirements at a price they can afford can be a major obstacle to food security,” explains Emily Dekker, Case Manager. Our social work team at Second Mile Club works with clients to help them get groceries and support healthful eating,
If you would like to eat healthier for you, focus on the foods that are important to you and shape your diet around them. Work with a health care professional — like your family doctor or a dietitian — to see where you can make adjustments that still encourage you to enjoy your food. For more information check out these resources:
- Nutrition Month Activity and Idea guide
- National Newcomer Navigation Network: Diversity of Health Eating
- Canada’s Food Guide
At Kensington Gardens, our long-term care home, raw food – like fresh pineapple - is an important way we encourage heathy, enjoyable eating. The raw food program is possible thanks to philanthropy. Learn more here, starting at 3:33: