Wendy Ford HeadshotNutrition is a critical component to our health and longevity, especially as we age. Balanced nutrition is linked to a stronger immune system while lowering the risk of non-communicable illnesses (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease).

Nutritional services and offerings are a major component of the Osceola Council on Aging’s work. We focus on the nutritional health of our seniors, whether it be Meals on Wheels (MOW), Congregate Dining services, our two Community Food Pantries (Kissimmee and now St. Cloud) and our Mobile Food Pantry (volunteers who deliver food to families who are transportation disadvantaged).

The OCOA’s nutritional outreach programs are the most requested of all service programs administered by our agency; we deliver more than eight hundred meals per day with MOW and serve, on average, 225 clients within our Congregate Dining services, multiple meals per week.

These initiatives are designed to improve health-related outcomes, reduce the risk of hunger and malnutrition while allowing recipients to retain more of their fixed household incomes to increase their financial self-sufficiency and decrease the chances of becoming homeless.

According to Wilda Belisle, the Council’s Senior VP of Nutrition, Meals on Wheels also supports socialization.

“Our programs are much more than a meal; the nutrition service involves wellness checks and a chance for socialization with clients.”

March is recognized as National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign focused on nutrition education. Created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the observance, celebrated annually, focuses on the importance of developing good eating habits, making informed food choices, and educating on the importance of a regimented physical activity schedule.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the organization’s primary mission is to consistently teach optimal nutrition. With more than 100,000 credentialed clinical practitioners, the Academy is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The majority of the Academy’s members are registered dietitians, nutritionists, and nutrition and dietetics technicians.

Like the Academy, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services release updated Dietary Guidelines. Each edition reflects the present body of research on what to eat and drink to promote health while reducing the risk of chronic disease. Accordingly, eating a healthy diet does not need to be overly complicated:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables; fresh, frozen, or canned. Eat dark green vegetables such as leafy greens or broccoli and orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
  • Vary protein choices with fish, beans, and peas.
  • Eat at least three ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta every day. Choose whole grains whenever possible.
  • Have three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt, or cheese) fortified with Vitamin D to help keep bones healthy.
  • Eat polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Switch from solid fats to oils when preparing food.

According to Healthcare.gov, evidence related to healthy eating and exercising continues to be linked to even more positive outcomes than previously thought. Further, the benefits of regular exercise begin accumulating immediately even with minimal physical activity.

Half of all American adults —117 million people — have one or more preventable chronic diseases, with seven of the 10 most common chronic diseases being favorably influenced by regular physical activity. Statistics indicate only half of adults meet the guidelines for aerobic activity, and 80 percent do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle strengthening. This lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs, and about 10 percent of premature mortality.

So, as we celebrate National Nutrition Month, the OCOA will continue to work to provide nutritionally balanced meal offerings to our seniors in hopes of keeping them well fed and healthy. Meanwhile, no matter the age, let us all focus on making informed food choices, developing healthy eating habits, and keeping physically active for better overall health.

For more information on the nutrition programs offered by the Council, contact Wilda Belisle at 407-847- 2144. For information on volunteering for our nutritional assistance programs, call Nora Ghazi at 407-846-8532, ext. 1238.

In closing, don’t forget to register for our annual March for Meals fundraising event to support our local Meals on Wheels efforts on March 12 at Kissimmee Lakefront Park, go to www.osceolagenerations. org and search ‘March for Meals.’

To see more guest columns by Wendy, go to https://osceolagenerations.org/councils-corner/

Published Thursday, February 17, 2022