Canada's Food Guide may be less accurate for seniors

Published: 22 January 2024

Seniors aged 65 and over who meet the recommendations of Canada's new Food Guide may not be getting enough of some important nutrients, warns a new study published by researchers at McGill University: their diet may not contain enough folate, vitamin D and calcium.

"We imagine that Health Canada is going to issue guidelines for the population that will ensure that we have the most complete diet possible, that will meet our needs without having to resort to supplements. That's what nutritional guidelines are all about. And then we realize that this isn't quite the case with the elderly," study author and McGill School of Human Nutrition Professor Stéphanie Chevalier told La Presse.

There are many positive aspects to the new Canada's Food Guide unveiled in 2019, said Chevalier, but the fact that it applies to the entire population aged two and over "worried her a little."

"That includes children, adolescents, pregnant women, the elderly, who are populations we've always known have special nutrient needs," she said. "I asked myself: are we missing something because we're not making recommendations, let's say more specific, for these population groups?"

So she and her post-doctoral student Didier Brassard combed through the actual eating habits of hundreds of seniors to measure their level of adherence to Canada's Food Guide. They found that this adherence can result in increased or decreased intake of certain nutrients, or make no difference at all.

How can seniors supplement their diet to up their intake of the nutrients in question? "Since we're talking about calcium and vitamin D, I'd recommend dairy products," says Chevalier.

Folates are found in green vegetables, and vitamin D deficiencies can be remedied with a supplement prescribed by a doctor.

In recent years, Health Canada has put additional resources online, such as guidelines for seniors. The information is not necessarily easy to find, however, and is often aimed at health professionals or facility managers.

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