It’s February, which means we’re right in the middle of American Heart Month. This is a good time to check in with your menu and make sure you’re offering your residents tasty, filling, heart-healthy options.

According to the CDC, half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease. Those top three risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking (other risk factors that give people a higher risk of heart disease are diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use). About 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure, and about 92.1 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke. The prevalence of heart disease and congestive heart failure is causing increased populations at hospitals, senior living facilities, and behavioral health facilities across America.

This major hike in residents over the years has led to the lack of ability to liberalize diets across facilities. For American Heart Month, Culinary Services Group is spreading awareness across our communities to prove that heart-healthy diets don’t have to be bland and boring. You can serve your residents healthy, delicious food they (and their hearts) will love.

Using food as medicine

A health plan in Pennsylvania, Health Partners Plans (HPP), recently partnered with the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA) to create “medically tailored meals” for people living with diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

MANNA uses a “food as medicine” model to provide healthy food to people in their community with these diseases. The goal of the program was to see if using food as medicine helped reduce health care costs and keep people healthy. And it worked! After partnering together, HPP and MANNA reported that 100% of those surveyed said the food provided met their medical needs and 100% said that they were better prepared to make healthier food choices. They also found that medical costs of hospital admissions decreased by 27.7% and costs of emergency room visits decreased by 9%.

 The benefits of a liberalized diet

The food as medicine model provides people with meals that are customized for each person’s dietary needs to keep them satisfied. Liberalizing diets in your community will ensure that everyone has the same food choice options, but with small changes to account for any health concerns.

With non-liberalized diets, patients can be completely uninterested in the meal and then not eat at all. Sometimes when facilities make meals and don’t have liberalized diets in place, they might be serving residents food that is bland or cumbersome to eat. If the resident chooses not to eat because of this, they may not be getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Say someone in your facility has diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease). If your facility is serving apple pie for dessert after dinner, the individual with diabetes would most likely have gotten a different, less tasty dessert than everyone else because a liberalized diet hasn’t been implemented. The resident would have to watch everyone else eat apple pie while they had a bland, sugar-free dessert in front of them. With a liberalized diet, the person with diabetes would still be served the apple pie, they would just get a smaller portion of it.

By serving a liberalized diet where every resident is getting a delicious (and nutritious!) meal, your community will be happier about their dining options and eat what’s being served to them. And the benefits for you are that the food as medicine model can reduce costs for high-risk patients and decrease hospital admissions.

Educate your residents

Starting a food as medicine initiative gives you the opportunity to educate your residents about making heart-healthy choices and incorporating better habits into their routine. Many of your residents probably do not understand what actually makes up a healthy diet for them. Some people may be told to cut back on foods high in sodium or to eat less food with saturated fats, but they might not know which foods fall into those categories. This makes it hard for them to make the appropriate choices for themselves. But with a little bit of education, they will learn how to pick heart-healthy options without feeling restricted.

For example, you can use your menu to educate your residents about the benefits of using other seasonings on food rather than salt. The American Heart Association recommends diets that focus on “a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, non-tropical vegetable oil, and nuts and legumes.” Many people may think that all red meat is bad for you, but you can teach your community that the American Heart Association actually says that lean beef is okay in moderation.

This also is a great time to teach residents with heart disease or who are at risk for heart disease about portion sizes. According to the American Heart Association, a healthy serving of fish, chicken, or lean beef is three ounces.

A delicious, heart-healthy diet

Food has always been something that helps people feel comforted and brings them together. Residents with heart disease or congestive heart failure should still be able to enjoy meal time and not feel “restricted” at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Culinary Services Group knows that meals can be tasty, cost-effective, and heart-healthy for your residents.

Let us help you use the food as medicine model to combat common health issues like heart disease in your community. By focusing on getting your residents engaged in improving their health, you’ll improve outcomes and reduce costs. Learn more here.

Culinary Services Group

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