According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, it is predicted that one in every three Canadians will be 55 or older by the year 2021. As we get older, so does the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease. This puts a heavy burden on health care costs. The good news is that nutrition can play a role in preventing or reducing the risk of developing chronic disease, especially in “young” older adults in the 55-65 year old age range. Here’s how.

The aging population in Canada

In 2006, Census Canada looked at the working-age population of Canadians, which ranges from age 15 to 64. It was noted that the number of people in the 55 – 64 year old age range grew the fastest from 2001 to 2006, and makes up about 17% of the workforce.

The Census also noted that Canada had experienced a decrease in those aged 15 and younger. With fewer young people entering the workforce and people aged 55+ soon reaching retirement, there will be a decrease in the Canadian labour force, and an increase in health care spending on older adults.

The health of young older adults (in the 55 to 64 age range) is an interesting area to focus on. If we can keep these young older adults healthy, we can take steps to prolong their inevitable transition into retirement. However, most health promotion and disease prevention strategies currently focus on secondary aging in people aged 65+.

A shift in health promotion

The key is to promote wellness and disease prevention at age 55+, rather than beginning at age 65. This can help people reduce the burden of disease and stay well for longer.

Among the diseases of the aging population, cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the leading cause of death for Canadians in 2004. CVD alone cost $7.6 billion in health care costs and $14.6 billion in lost economic productivity. This is a grave financial stress on the Canadian health care system.

Steps to reduce heart disease risk would help alleviate the burden. Since nutrition and CVD are strongly linked, foodservice providers can play a key role in helping people choose better diets at every age. Here are some steps that can be taken:

Make the switch to whole grain: Most menus will have pasta, rice or bread – sometimes all three. Since a high intake of whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease, swap your white rice for brown rice and offer whole wheat pasta too. Make sure that you have bagels, English muffins and sliced bread in whole grain versions and encourage this healthy choice.

Vegetables and fruits aplenty: The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre in fruits and vegetables can play a key role in maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and reducing CVD risk. If buttery vegetables and apple sauce are the only offerings you have, it’s time to shake things up. Introduce steamed or stir-fried vegetables with lower sodium sauces, and switch the butter for oil. Offer salads and raw vegetables crudités too. Canned fruit salad and apple sauce may be loaded with added sugar. Offer unsweetened versions, or opt for fresh, whole fruit instead.

Protein for healthy aging: With its intricate link to muscle, protein is essential for us as we age. The trouble is that many protein sources are also high in saturated fat, which is bad for the ticker. Make sure that the menu offers lean protein choices, such as Maple Leaf Healthy Selections Pork Loin Chops. Each 90g fully cooked chop contains only 4.9g of total fat and 2.5g of saturated fat. The added bonus is that these tender, boneless chops are high in protein (24g) and low in sodium (71mg)! Check out the Menu MAXimizer Recipe section for a unique new recipe featuring this delicious product – Spanish Pork Chops.

When the healthy choice is an easy and delicious choice, people will be more likely to pick it. If you enhance your menu with nutritious foods, you are doing your part to help make healthy choices more accessible – and make health more attainable.