New food guide falls short for those who are frail and ill

I have reservations about Health Canada’s new Canada Food Guide, particularly when it comes to the diets of those living with frailty and chronic illness.

The guide recommends a plant-focused diet, but not to the exclusion of animal products. It’s an approach consistent with the Mediterranean diet that has been studied extensively and shown to promote good health.

The guide is well designed for the healthy among us.

That’s good news. But what about those living with chronic illness or frailty?

Canada’s Food Guide has been traditionally used to plan menus for hospitals and care residences, despite the fact that it was not intended for this purpose.

When someone is frail, they have poor function in many areas of their life and are vulnerable to bad health outcomes.

Even a minor stress can result in a crisis. The new guide isn’t specific enough to meet the essential dietary needs of aging seniors living with chronic illness or frailty.

As we get older, we start to lose our muscle mass because of our sedentary lifestyles and because of what we eat. Muscles allow us to get out of a chair, pick up our grandchildren, balance so we don’t fall.

It’s now recognized that older adults need more protein and specifically, quality protein, than other age groups to maintain their muscle and prevent frailty.

So what’s enough?

Experts recommend one to one and a half grams per kilogram of body weight per day. So for someone who weighs 175 pounds (80 kilograms), this is 80 to 120 grams of protein per day.

But what do I mean by quality protein?

This is protein that contains the essential amino acids that our body can’t make — it needs to come from what we eat.

Animal products — such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products — provide all of these essential amino acids in the right amounts, but not all plants do (an exception is soy).

So if you avoid animal products, this means eating a variety of plant sources every day to get the right mix of essential amino acids.

This takes education, planning and often cooking your own food.

This can be challenging for older adults at risk for frailty, such as those living alone.

For older adults, getting enough of those essential amino acids without blowing their calorie requirements is also a challenge.

Most plant sources are not as efficient as animal sources for attaining requirements; we need to eat more lentils, beans and nuts to get the protein we need.

Take the humble egg: at six grams of protein and 70 calories, the same amount of protein from peanut butter will double your calories. A chicken breast with no skin (three ounces) has around 30 grams of protein in under 200 calories.

To get the same amount of protein from soy would mean more calories. Also, some key nutrients known to mitigate frailty (e.g., calcium, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids) are more often found naturally in animal products.

We know that menus in long-term care facilities often miss the mark on almost half of necessary nutrients, in part, because the 2007 Canada’s Food Guide was used for planning. A dietitian is the best resource for guiding those who are sick in hospitals or frail in residences.

With malnutrition common in hospitalized patients, many of whom are older adults, this means we need to work toward a standard for health-care institutions that promotes recovery from illness and prevents more malnutrition and consequent frailty.

The good news is that the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force, with the Canadian Nutrition Society, is working toward this goal.

As a Canadian Frailty Network investigator, I’ve been advocating for some time that dietary reference intakes, which provide specific recommendations by sex and age group for vitamins, minerals and protein, should be the starting point for hospital and residence menus to prevent deficiency and chronic diseases.

Dr. Heather Keller is a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo.

Just Posted

Trudeau seeks to right his campaign in Toronto as Scheer heads to Maritimes

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is in Toronto today, hoping to… Continue reading

Canadian retail sales up 0.4 per cent in July, first increase in three months

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.4 per cent in… Continue reading

Hudson’s Bay Co. closing its 15 Hudson’s Bay stores in the Netherlands

TORONTO — Hudson’s Bay Co. is closings its 15 Hudson’s Bay stores… Continue reading

Alberta man sentenced to 23.5 years for sexually abusing his three daughters

EDMONTON — A central Alberta man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting… Continue reading

Red Deerians air their opinions on the Justin Trudeau in brownface scandal

Does the two-decade-ago time frame make it more forgivable?

Your community calendar

Wednesday Central Alberta Historical Society annual general meeting is 6 p.m. at… Continue reading

Canada’s women’s basketball team to begin Olympic qualifying process

EDMONTON — Two-time Olympian Kim Gaucher and WNBA rookie Bridget Carleton headline… Continue reading

Canada climbs FIFA world soccer rankings, moves past CONCACAF rival Panama

The numbers are suddenly looking better for Canada. The Canadian men rose… Continue reading

Greta Hodgkinson to retire as principal dancer at National Ballet of Canada

TORONTO — It’s the end of an era at the National Ballet… Continue reading

‘We can move on with our lives:’ Alberta parents acquitted in death of toddler

LETHBRIDGE — An Alberta mother and father who treated their ill son… Continue reading

Trudeau asks Canada to look to his current, not past, actions on race

Justin Trudeau’s privileged upbringing created a “massive blind spot” when it came… Continue reading

Appeal court rules 3-2 in favour of law that slashed Toronto city council

TORONTO — Ontario’s top court has upheld a provincial law that slashed… Continue reading

Most Read