A diabetic diet can be broken up into a few simple rules: portion control, having regularly set mealtimes, limiting sugar, and eating fibrous, varied foods.
1. Portion control is mostly in regard to carbohydrates. This is the macronutrient that affects blood glucose levels, but that doesn’t mean diabetics need to avoid all carbs. The type of carbohydrate is what’s important; rather than eating processed, refined carbs from foods like sweets and desserts, choose fruits, legumes, and vegetables instead. These are known as complex carbs, which are digested much slower and thus don’t cause a spike in blood sugar. This is one of the most important points for managing diabetes in the elderly. Some healthy sources of carbohydrates are whole fruit, whole grain bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and crackers, starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes, lentils, sweet potatoes, winter squash), milk and yogurt, beans and legumes
2. Having regularly set mealtimes and not skipping meals will help regulate glucose levels. The time at which you eat is just as important as the food that you eat. To avoid sugar level fluctuations, eat at consistent times each day. If you, or an elderly loved one affected by diabetes, take mealtime insulin, eating every 4-5 hours is recommended in order to prevent hypoglycemia. Caregivers can help by ensuring the diabetic person eats at regular intervals, and takes their medication as needed.
3. Limiting sugar intake is another essential. Sweets and desserts, soft drinks, honey, and other foods with a high glycemic index should be avoided entirely, or only eaten as an occasional treat in tiny amounts. For proper control over diabetes in the elderly, sugar cravings should be assuaged with fresh or frozen fruit. Cut out fruit juices from your diet, as these are high in sugar. Low-fat foods, such as yogurt and other dairy products, should also be avoided, as they often have added sugar to compensate for the reduced fat content. Some “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” foods are made with sugar alcohol and may still raise your blood sugar.
4. Fiber is an important element of an enjoyable diabetic diet. Dietary fiber has many health benefits for the body, including a slowed digestion of sugars and improvement of blood glucose levels. Seniors with diabetes should consume more high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.
5. A diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is best. Highly processed foods often contain excessive sodium, sugar, and unhealthy saturated fats. Preparing your own meals or having a caregiver prepare them for you is a good way to avoid unnecessary salt and sugar.
6. Finally, avoid excess salt, as diabetics are more at-risk for heart disease than non-diabetics. Excessive sodium can lead to many complications, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
Here are some easy swaps to simplify your diabetic diet:
Instead of soft drinks, have a glass of water or sparkling water with strawberries
Have brown rice as opposed to white rice
Similarly, replace white bread with whole-grain bread
Replace chips with homemade popcorn, which has little sugar, is low-calorie, and packed with fiber
Use an artificial sweetener instead of sugar in tea or coffee
For breakfast, choose plain yogurt with fruit instead of sugary cereal
When baking, use half the sugar the recipe calls for, or substitute it with mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla extract. Some spices, such as cinnamon, are actually believed to help lower blood sugar levels
For more information on Diabetes and recipe ideas, visit American Diabetes Association: https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/
Here is a sample recipe from the above website.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
3 Tbsp flour
1 lb lean beef stew meat
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups low sodium beef broth
1 cup water
6 large carrots, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
Place the flour in a large resealable plastic bag. Add beef and toss to coat.
Add oil to a pan over high heat. Add beef and sauté for 6-8 minutes, turning frequently until evenly browned.
Transfer beef and all remaining ingredients to a large slow cooker.
Cover and cook in slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
Can serve with a side of steamed green beans for a balanced weeknight meal.