Assisted-living center puts residents on Mediterranean diet

Cape Cod Senior Residences has put residents in its assisted living center on a diet — the Mediterranean diet.

The eating plan is less about calorie restriction than about filling residents with tasty, good-for-you foods that promote heart and brain health, according to officials from Senior Living Residences, the parent company of Cape Cod Senior Residences and 11 other senior communities in Massachusetts.

"We chose the Mediterranean diet because of its health benefits," said Pamela Maloney, Senior Living Residences spokeswoman. "You want it to be delicious and good for you. We feel our residents are worth it."

Senior Living Residences has partnered with Oldways, a nonprofit organization, to integrate the dietary principles into its meals plan. Oldways, together with the Harvard School of Public Health, unveiled the Mediterranean diet at a conference in Cambridge in 1993.

The eating program puts an emphasis on plant-based foods, local seafoods and whole grains in muffins and pastas as well as fruits and healthy oils. Salt and pepper are joined on the dining tables by cinnamon, which reduces inflammation and is a tasty alternative to sugar, and the Senior Living Residences' proprietary blend of herbs and spices called "Spice of Life."

"It's something we put together," said Kim Smith, corporate director of Senior Living Residences' dining program. "It's our special blend."

Senior Living Residences' chefs cook from scratch and rely on locally grown produce as much as possible in addition to local fish markets, Smith said.

"We don't buy anything prepurchased," she said.

Meals are served with two vegetables and salads that incorporate berries, seeds, nuts and fruits, Smith said.

"We'll use kale. We'll do Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli," she said.

Many of the ingredients in the Mediterranean diet food pyramid, also unveiled in 1993, contain anti-inflammatory properties associated with cognitive health, Smith said.

"We call it brain healthy cooking," she said.

While Cape Cod Senior Residences has been incorporating elements of the Mediterranean diet since 2009, this year it partnered with Oldways to "bolster the integrity of the program and give chefs a true understanding of the Mediterranean Diet," Maloney said.

"Plants are really the center of the diet," said Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways.

Olive oil is on the daily menu and pasta and healthy desserts are featured regularly, she said. The point is to "eat smaller amounts of great tasting food and really enjoy it."

These dietary changes fly in the face of the menu of heavily processed foods many senior citizens have come to rely on.

Cape Cod Senior Residences chef Brendon Forrest said by the time residents enter the assisted living center they have been eating a steady diet of foods relatively low in nutrients, such as ham sandwiches and canned soups.

Forrest gets residents used to the healthier menu by introducing his own version of old favorites, such as fish sticks.

"We don't advertise all the ingredients," he said.

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