Diabetes affects millions of Americans. In fact, 1 in 4 older adults has diabetes.
To commemorate National Diabetes Month, it is important to remember the impact of healthy eating on the management of diabetes for our senior loved ones.
Some of us may think that older adults can eat whatever they desire because they have earned the right with age to do so.
Unfortunately, what they eat influences their health. Managing blood sugar and diabetes involves a complete treatment plan including eating healthy.
Seniors will be putting their health and successful aging at risk when they don’t find ways to improve their diet.
Diabetic Diets Are Not Easy
Following a diabetic diet is not the easiest thing in the world, nor is it the most difficult. The alternative is constantly elevated blood sugar, potentially needing more medications and more frequent hospitalizations. When blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day everyday due to poor management, feeling bad all the time becomes the norm.
Who wants to feel bad every day?
Sometimes eating better to control blood sugar isn’t the only thing the doctor will prescribe. For some seniors, losing weight is also on the agenda.
Those two can go hand in hand!
When following a restricted diet for weight loss or just to control blood sugar, it is important to avoid shortchanging nutrition, which can lead to poorer health.
Slow, steady weight loss and a varied diet is the key to health.
Which Diet Is Best for Your Senior?
Everyone with a diagnosis of diabetes should be following some type of ‘diet.’ Does that mean they have to weigh and measure every bite eaten? No!
Being knowledgeable about what will work best for your senior loved one and how you as a caregiver can support them in their diabetes journey is desirable instead of being overly restrictive, which often leads to non-adherence.
Sometimes the most challenging part of eating well to control diabetes for many seniors is making changes to lifelong habits. Throwing out all their favorite foods and pushing unfamiliar foods on them won’t work.
There are several eating patterns (diets) that are built upon science and health outcomes and some that are just hype, with short term success but unsustainable for most seniors (and the rest of us).
Many popular diets are based on excluding large groups of foods, such as carbs or white foods. This may mean your senior loved one is also leaving out important nutrients for which their body hungers. This can be dangerous for them and not helpful for controlling their diabetes.
There are several more healthful approaches that will lead to positive benefits and success.
Top 5 Eating Plans for Diabetes
Madelyn Fernstrom, founding director of the UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center has reviewed forty diet programs to determine if they meet the nutritional needs and contain appropriate science-based components within the framework of the particular program and if the diets are safe. You can find the entire article here which details what works and what doesn’t which eat of the top diets or eating plans.
The best diets for healthy eating from her review have been ranked with a score from 1 to 5 for nutritional content and safety based on their effectiveness to prevent or maintain diabetes.
The highest marks went to Mediterranean, DASH, Flexitarian, Mayo Clinic, and Weight Watchers meal programs.
“The ones that get high scores in safety and in nutritional value — they’re very similar to each other”.
All these diets are similar in the fact that they are largely plant based, with lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and occasional treats. They also all stress the importance of regular physical activity as a part of the plan.
- Mediterranean – an eating pattern based on lean protein, limited red meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seasonings instead of salt, fish, and seafood a few times a week, cheese/eggs/milk/poultry in moderation, and limit sweets. Filling up on fiber from whole grains and plants will help with weight control.
- DASH – (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) encourages eating fruits/vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy foods while discouraging foods high in saturated fat like red meat, full-fat dairy, tropical oils, and sugar sweetened foods and beverages. Small daily changes, such as adding a fruit or vegetable per meal, using seasonings instead of salt, and avoiding added sugars, is the basis of this eating plan so that it can be sustainable.
- A tie: Flexitarian – a flexible plan, vegetarian at its core. Like the other plans, it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains packed with fiber, non-meat protein, dairy, and seasonings. You should eat more vegetables than meat. The total plan generally totals 1,500 calories a day with 300 calories at Breakfast, 400 at lunch and 500 at dinner. There are also two snacks during the day with 150 calories each. Mayo Clinic – this plan helps to replace poor eating habits with better ones and includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats while avoiding added sugar. You should eat lower calorie foods to feel full. No counting calories but food selections are important; also no eating in front of the TV, portion control, limited dining out, and making healthy habits part of your routine. Weight Watchers – this meal plan is structured with point counting. Each food has designated points that add up to a daily allotment. On the newest program, many foods are 0 points, including fruits and vegetables. There is support for your changes in the form of in-person or online health guides. It is up to the person to choose wisely.
The lower scoring diets were often too restrictive, lacking in essential nutrients or cooked in such a way that would make them unsafe.
All healthy diabetes treatment plans include physical activity. Don’t overlook activity as an important part of your senior’s daily routine.
If your senior loved one suffers from diabetes and has been told to lose some weight or do more to control their blood sugar through a healthy eating plan, seek sound medical advice from your doctor or registered dietitian to help plan a meal program that will continue to help manage blood sugar, control weight and provide all the essential nutrients needed everyday.
Don’t gamble with their health.