Successfully managing diabetes requires planning, particularly for senior adults as they are more susceptible to the health problems diabetes can present. According to the American Diabetes Association: “Older adults with diabetes have the highest rates of major lower-extremity amputation, myocardial infarction (heart attack), visual impairment, and end-stage renal disease of any age-group.”
Planning and preparing meals to manage diabetes is a major component for avoiding or delaying these health problems.
So how do you monitor and adjust food consumption to meet the unique needs of each senior?
Where to Begin
The proper diet for a senior with diabetes can hinge on a number of factors, including the person’s weight; glucose levels; changes in appetite; fitness and other physical problems; difficulty chewing, swallowing, or digesting food; medications, and personal preferences for monitoring food intake and physical activity.
Because managing diabetes can become overwhelming for some people, it could be best to consult the senior’s physician, who may also recommend consultation with a dietitian or certified diabetes educator.
However, don’t get overloaded with all the information. As knowledge and experience increases, the details of managing diabetes will become less overwhelming. Food options, exercise programs, and support resources are available to provide a variety of ways to control it.
Good Foods for Diabetes
There are foods generally agreed upon as being nutritious for people with diabetes.
Eating a diet lower in carbohydrates (see below), with lean protein and avoiding foods like white rice and pasta (especially if it is not whole grain), is recommended.
Examples of Foods to Include
Lean protein: tuna, salmon, or cod; plain Greek yogurt, poultry, lean beef
Good fats: avocados, nuts, olives (see below)
Fruits: Just about any kind of fruit, but unsweetened if canned
Vegetables: broccoli, spinach, carrots, beans, sweet potatoes
Fiber: legumes, nuts, oatmeal, vegetables, beans
A note about fat: Many people eliminate fat in the diet or choose all fat-free items. This can lead to low blood sugar or feeling hungry between meals. If the label says “fat-free,” often sugar, salt and/or artificial sweeteners are added to make it taste better. Instead choose one “good fat” item to include at each meal.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat provide the body with energy. Carbs are divided into ones that are good and those that are bad. Too many carbs causes blood sugar to rise too high, which can, over time, damage nerves and blood vessels and lead to serious complications.
You should not eliminate carbs from your diet, but the type and amount of carbs you consume is crucial to managing glucose levels.
Whole carbs, also called complex carbs, are the “good carbs.” They include vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, and whole grains. They break down more slowly in the body and provide more energy and keep glucose levels on a more even keel.
Refined carbs, also called simple carbs, are the “bad carbs.” They include sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta and white rice. Bad carbs are absorbed more quickly, causing spikes in blood glucose levels.
Your physician or a registered dietitian can recommend how many grams of carbs to consume per day.
There are different ways to monitor food intake:
The plate plan provides a breakdown of the portions and foods to place on your plate.
A dietitian can teach you how to measure food portions and make recommendations on specific foods for meals and snacks.
Some people reference the glycemic index to select food. The index ranks foods based on their effects on blood glucose. Talk to a dietitian to see if this is right for you.
No matter what approach is used, portion control, eating right and regular mealtimes to keep blood sugar levels less susceptible to spikes is critical, as is consistently monitoring blood glucose levels and correctly taking diabetes medications. Also, the ability to read and understand food nutrition labels is a must for people with diabetes.
A Daily Commitment
Managing diabetes has been described as a marathon as opposed to a sprint. To be successful at limiting or preventing its consequences requires a consistent daily commitment to health and wellbeing. Fortunately, many resources are available to help along the way.
It’s important to maintain a healthy diet, especially as you age. For all the best tips on nutrition, check out the Health & Wellness section.