Cooking for yourself can already feel like a chore, especially for seniors. But for those living with diabetes, preparing meals for yourself comes with added responsibilities. Diabetics most effectively control their glucose levels by watching what they eat, so following a healthy diabetic-friendly diet is critical. Not eating a proper diet can have drastic consequences on your health and can lead to exasperated diabetes complications. Below are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your meals and eat throughout the day to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Sugar and Sweets
The most obvious food that diabetic seniors want to avoid is sugar. The defining characteristic of diabetes is that the body is unable to properly process insulin— the hormone responsible for turning sugar into energy. Table sugar and artificial sweeteners create unusual glucose spikes in the blood that can’t be controlled by the body for those with diabetes. Short term symptoms of these spikes are headaches, blurry vision, fatigue, and increased thirst, while long-term effects include increased insulin resistance, nerve damage, kidney damage, and even strokes.
Elderly people living with diabetes can prevent these dangerous spikes by avoiding foods with high sugar content. These foods include soda and soft drinks, baked goods, candy, chocolate, honey, and other natural sweeteners.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are a type of macronutrient that provides your body with energy. They’re broken down into three categories, sugar, starches, and fiber— of which the last two are responsible for sugar spikes. Refined carbohydrates are carbs that have been stripped of their bran, fiber, and other nutrients, causing them to digest more quickly and contribute to higher glucose levels.
One easy mistake diabetics often make is trying to eliminate carbohydrates from their diets altogether. However, the body relies on carbs as its main source of energy, and to eliminate them from your diet can lead to nutrition deficiencies, including lack of fiber and other important vitamins and minerals.
Instead of skipping carbohydrates altogether, seniors should choose complex carbs like barley, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, beans, and nuts.
Fried foods can seem irresistible sometimes, and that’s because they’re covered in fat, which adds flavor. Foods like french fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, chips, and other deep-fried treats can lead to extreme health complications when consumed regularly.
The oil used to fry these treats can create high blood pressure and blood sugar, cause inflammation, and can even cause heart disease. They’re also typically covered in some sort of breading which adds calories and contributes to weight gain. Weight management is an important part of managing diabetes in older adults, as being overweight can make it difficult to control blood sugar levels and can lead to heart disease.
Instead of reaching for the deep fryer, try baking or roasting your foods as a healthy alternative. You can even add whole-wheat breadcrumbs before baking to mimic the crunch of your favorite meals!
Although pre-packaged snacks are convenient and delicious, the preservatives used to keep the food fresh makes these foods high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Whether it be snacks like chips, cookies, and pretzels or frozen meals like TV dinners and pizza, these foods tend to be unhealthy in nature and can further complicate diabetes conditions.
Even foods that are marketed as “healthier options” tend to be high in these undesirable additives. For example, foods labeled as “non-fat” usually have added sugar to make the food more palatable. Similarly, foods labeled as having zero grams of trans fat still have hydrogenated oils— which is the root source of trans fats.
The best thing seniors can do is eat meals that are prepared at home with fresh ingredients. If you’re having trouble cooking for yourself, consider using a service that prepares fresh meals for you. And if you must eat pre-packaged foods, always check the nutrition label and the ingredients to ensure that you’re eating the healthiest foods possible.
While alcohol may have earned a place in your nighttime routine over the years, excessive drinking can cause multiple health effects for senior citizens living with diabetes. Beer, wine, and other alcohol tend to have a lot of empty calories that make it difficult to manage your weight. It can also interact with certain diabetes medications, so be sure that you are drinking in accordance with the directions of your medicine.
Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to liver damage, making it difficult for your body to manage glucose levels and can further exasperate diabetic health complications. If you choose to drink, try to do so in moderation, and make sure that you’re checking your blood sugar regularly to ensure you’re being as safe as possible.
Avoid Does Not Mean Eliminate
It can be difficult for most elderly Americans to completely eliminate these foods from their diet. The good news is that you don’t have to— just enjoy them in moderation instead. You can still have your favorite sweets and other mentioned foods as part of a healthy diabetic diet. With the proper portion control, activity levels, and blood sugar control, you don’t have to give up your guilty pleasures.