In this episode, we're talking about salt! Melissa is joined by Jim Lee, Director of Dining Services for The Arbor Company, about the good, the bad, and the effect that salt has on senior health.

Video Transcript

- Hello everyone, and welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. As always, I hope you are having a wonderful day today and we certainly appreciate you watching. Well, we are checking in with Arbor communities, staff, their residents, to better help you understand what everyone does behind the scenes to help make your senior living experience the absolute best that it can be. Today, we're talking about food. Who does not love this topic? I know I do and I am thrilled to introduce you to Jim Lee, the director of dining services for the Arbor company. Uh, we will have a few videos with Jeff as he talks about some of the more unique aspects, uh, of dining out at our Arbor communities. Jim, how are you today?

- I am very well. Thank you for having me.

- Oh, we are so thrilled to have you for a couple of- I think kind of in depth conversations about things that people don't even really think about. But before we do that, uh, let's talk a little bit about your background. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been with the Arbor company.

- Sure, um, I actually just, um, finished up my 17th year with Arbor, um, so starting on number 18, which is wonderful and very exciting. Um. So I've got a little bit of a background, obviously in senior living and it's my calling, it's my passion, absolutely love what I do. Uh. My role is, uh, to, um, support the dining efforts for the Arbor company. Um, so I lead the dining discipline and I have some talented folks that work along with me and our function really is to work with the various dining directors and chiefs at our communities that are scattered around the United States and we create menus and recipes together. We educate and train our staff to provide, uh, the best options that we can for our residents. Want to be able to provide our residents with some great, uh, education as well on why we do what we do. Um, and we're continually looking at ways that we can improve the dining program for our residents.

- Fantastic and- and this show is all about education. And so, today we are taking on a topic- four letters- packs a punch- We're talking about salt. Now, never in a million years, did I think we would have an entire show about salt, but this is important. Um, it's in almost everything we eat, Jim. As you know, especially in a Western diet, uh, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. How does excessive salt intake affect our health, especially when it comes to seniors?

- Yeah, you couldn't be more right. So, um, as we know, salt has been a preservative for... God forever, um... in- in food. So it's naturally found in foods. It's also added into a lot of foods, especially processed foods. So it's really hard to get away from it. Um, so... with... seniors, there have been a lot of studies related to excessive intake of salt, and it creates high blood pressure, hypertension, um, gastric issues, diabetes, uh, and a bunch of heart problems. So it's really not the best thing for anybody, uh, definitely but- but definitely not our seniors.

- Yeah and I think sometimes you hear, um, as we- as we get older and as we age, we- we- we do lose, uh, some of that sensation or- in our taste buds and so we tend to- to add as it gets taken away, wh- which can certainly be, as you've mentioned there, can be potentially dangerous and- and have some significant side effects. So wh- what, uh, what steps, uh, do you and your chefs take to ensure that Arbor communities have well-balanced reduced sodium food?

- A great question. So what we've done as a company, we've done this for... God, most of my time with Arbor, uh, almost immediately when I joined Arbor, we decided to become a no added salt company and at first it was- it was tough. It was tough for our, um, staff because we are so used to just grabbing the salt and pepper and the garlic and just throwing on the foods and says, you know, "we need more seasoning" or the famous saying of "it needs more salt. It needs more salt." We'd been programmed that way forever. So it was really a tough move to get away from that. But as a company, we made that educated decision and we felt like it was the best decision for our residents. So what we've done is, um, over time is, we've educated both our staff in the preparation process and our residents and families, um, when we've had dinners together, themed events and things of that nature, we've offered some educational series. And what we've done is saying, "we're not adding salt." We can't get away from salt completely, of course, because it's naturally found in foods or it's added as a preservative in some of the processed foods that we need to purchase, but we're not gonna add anything to the equation. What we do instead is concentrate on fresh herbs and seasonings- that's where we get our "pow" and our punch, uh, in our plate presentation. So we can really enhance the flavor of a dish by chopping up some oregano and some parsley and things like that- throwing it into the dish in preparation and as a final step. And it helps enhance the flavors, uh, like what you were talking about with some of the taste buds and things like that and going away. The sweet one is the one to go last, your salty one is one of the first ones to go. So then you automatically think this doesn't have enough salt in it so then naturally you want to be able to add it to it. We certainly don't want to because of the health concerns as we- as we already talked about. So by being able to provide the fresh herbs and seasoning both in the back of the house during our preparation products and on the table with our residents as that end user, providing the education with poultry seasoning, and steak seasoning, pork seasoning, um, Mediterranean, citrus, that kind of thing and educate them on what pairs up with what plate, they're able to sprinkle a little dash of something on as well, enhance the flavor and not increase sodium levels at all. So we're very proud of that.

- Yeah, this is, uh, very educational. And I mean, even if you don't live in an Arbor community, we try to touch all viewers. You can take some notes and incorporate this into your cooking today. Um. So now of course, you've been doing this for a while. As you've said, the change can be difficult, changes- always difficult. But I like to hear some of the feedback that you've received from residents who perhaps moved into a community, saw a drastic improvement while eating an Arbor community-based diet and maybe a year or six months time that they'd been there.

- Sure. So the immediate feedback that we have gotten, and quite honestly still get with some of our new residents that when they- when they join one of our communities is... this food is bland. It needs more salt. Can be because we're programmed that way, aren't we? So we- we- we do the education with that resident. We do a lot of one-on-one sessions with the residents to help them focus a little bit differently and not just automatically grab that salt shaker. So we explain why it is that we do what we do. Now we've gotten to the point quite honestly, where we take the, "Hey, this food is bland" as a compliment. Where- Hey, that means there's not too much salt in this. We're doing good by you and for you. We want to do that. Now let's go to a happy medium step. Let's grab this Mediterranean seasoning, and let's throw a little dash on this and let's taste it together and enjoy it together and see what it is that you think. So what we've been able to accomplish over time is, having residents and even family members come back and say, "My mom is no longer on her high blood pressure medicine" or a quote that I got just recently from a resident is, "My numbers are back in line now." Not that we're completely the only reason for that, but they've got the education, they've made modifications on their end, and we're helping with that. So we're very proud of that.

- Yeah, and we've- we've interviewed quite a few doctors just in relation to- to many different ailments, uh, whether it's arthritis or what have you and- and gosh, they all say the same thing: diet truly is everything. Uh. It- it is everything. So that's kind of where it starts and maybe where it ends. If you have a bad diet, your health probably isn't going to be so good. You have a pretty good diet, chances are it's going to be pretty good and you're going to live a longer life. So it all makes sense. It's all connected. So Jim, we know that there are people who live in Arbor communities that'll be watching this, people who may be on the fence about moving into senior living and- so for those people, if they're looking for some tips or easy tricks to reduce their sodium intake, what can they do today?

- So... what we do with our residents and even with our staff when were retraining, for lack of better phrases, is take baby steps. Don't make our dramatic change all at once and completely cut out salt because when you finally give up, you're really going to binge, like they tell you with a diet as well, don't deprive yourself because you're going to break down one day and you're going to eat the whole box of chocolate. So likewise with salt. So take baby steps and start with when you're sitting at the table and you get that turkey and mashed potatoes, and you see mashed potatoes on the plate, your first inclination is to grab the salt shaker. Count to 10. Don't grab it automatically, taste your food first. And if you feel like you need something, let's have a conversation. What can we enhance this with other than salt? if you feel really, really strong that you need to have salt, because it's a hard thing to break, cut in half. Don't take the salt shaker and put it directly on your food, sprinkle it into the palm of your hand, and then do a little pinch and sprinkle it over your food and then you're able to actually see just how much salt is going on. And over a little bit of time, you're going to be very conscious of, I see a lot of sprinkling going on. Let me cut back, let me cut back. But if you're able to do those baby steps, you're retraining yourself and concentrating again on those fresh herbs and seasoning, instead of the sodium intake, your body feels better. You're not dehydrated. You just feel a lot more alive, quite literally. And then you're able to do without that salt. Your body's not craving that salt anymore.

- Okay. So I've gotten some tips before on different things, but that is probably one of the best tips I- I've heard. Uh, put it in your hand, you can see how much it is. Cause we don't know how much it is when it's coming out of that shaker and nothing upsets me more, after I've cooked, than somebody who immediately wants to add salt. And I said, try it first before you put the salt in! I promise I did my due diligence to add the spices-

- and things to make it taste good.

- Sure.

- What an excellent tip. That- tho- Fantastic. And I think people can do that today, starting with their next meal. So Jim, as we wrap up here, let's kind of pull back a little bit, cause we really narrowed things down with the topic of salt and let's just go full, big picture here when it comes to food. Um. When- when people make that leap into senior living, I hear it all the time, food is a big deal and it is a deal breaker for a lot of people, the food isn't good- they're not going to move in. Um. If the food is good- yeah. The- the- that that's probably going to just make the decision for them one way or the other. Uh, people want to move someplace where they can enjoy every single one of their meals. How is Arbor different, uh, from other senior living communities when it comes to your approach on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks?

- Okay. So very proud of this and I'll start it by saying one word. Options. Period. But to- to dive into that a little bit more, one thing that we're very proud of as a company is, um, our support team and- and- and our discipline. We are tasked with writing a bunch of menus and a bunch of recipes and then what we do is we've got a great database for an educational resource for all of our dining directors and chefs to pull from. But what we also do is allow each one of those communities to develop their own menus. Why? Every resident is different, even if they're geographically placed in the same area. The communities and the taste will be different. So we want those dining directors and those chefs and those teams to be able to create based on what the residents actually enjoy, having me dictate, they have to have this specific menu item on this specific day- we're taking all the freedom and creativity away from a talented team. And it'll be something that the residents may not enjoy. So we really want to listen to our residents and create menu cycles and options based on what the resident actually wants. And then I mentioned already, the options aspect. It's not- here's what you're having today in that set. No, here are two or three things that we're offering as our daily features and then here's a full menu of items that are always available at any time, whether you're not feeling good, you're not in the mood for a heavy meal, or whatever the case may be at any given time. You quite literally have a couple dozen items to choose from. So- and all of those are based on resident preferences as well. So we're very, very proud of, as a company, allowing every one of our communities to dictate what it is that they're serving based on the resident preferences.

- Yeah, and to follow up on that, quite a few residents have enjoyed the fact that there is a little catering as well towards, uh, their personal, uh, religious beliefs in their food and the different times of year when that holiday may come up, that the chefs are very happy to- to gear that next dinner towards whatever holiday you happen to observe and I think that that is fantastic! So, oh my goodness. Again, I'll go full circle and say what I said at the beginning, I never thought I'd have a show all about salt, but we did and you did a fantastic job today. Jim Lee, thank you so much for educating us.

- My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

- Thank you. Well, if you enjoyed this interview with Jim, you can log on over to He's got a couple of other videos there you might want to check out. All of our video content is geared towards senior living and it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As always, we appreciate you watching Senior Living Live. Have a great day, everybody.

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