Every year in Canada, March is coined “Nutrition Month” and aims to raise visibility about the importance of healthy eating. This year’s campaign theme, “Good For You,” explores how healthy eating looks different for everyone depending on things such as one’s culture, personal circumstances, and nutritional needs. We explore what the research says about each of these three key areas below.
Food is an important part of culture
Food not only nourishes the body but also helps maintain or rebuild the individual and social identity of older adults. In all cultures, every day, people perform activities related to food. These activities have an important and positive symbolic role because they allow family and social ties to be forged and crystallize the very identity of a person. Research has shown that older adults can maintain their identity and mental well-being by cooking and eating foods that reflect their culture and sharing their recipes and knowledge with others.
Personal circumstances affect eating behaviours
Changes in health status, loss of independence, widowhood, and social isolation pose threats to the well-being of older adults. These changes can lead to lower self-esteem and social invisibility. No longer having the autonomy required to prepare meals themselves or to fulfill obligations related to their gender, some older adults are experiencing a real identity crisis and are sometimes excluded from certain social events. For example, a newly bereaved man who must learn to cook or an elderly woman who must delegate the preparation of meals to her husband, because she is no longer able to take care of them, could feel deprived of their identity.
The pandemic is another example of a circumstance that can impact our mental well-being by giving rise to feelings of sadness, fear, stress, and boredom. These factors can then go on to affect our eating behaviours. While we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, reflecting on our eating habits and how they have changed can help us identify ways to improve our behaviours.
Nutritional needs are different for everyone
A nutritious, well-balanced diet is important to health and well-being throughout the lifespan and helps us maintain strength, mobility, and a good quality of life as we age.
Nutritional needs may vary from person-to-person depending on whether someone has a chronic condition or disease or is underweight or overweight. It is a good idea to discuss your diet plan with your doctor or dietician, particularly if you have a chronic disease or other medical condition that can be affected by what you eat.
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an important part of healthy aging. By bringing greater awareness to key elements such as culture and personal circumstances, and by understanding nutritional needs vary by person, we can develop a more well-rounded view of nutrition.