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Senior Nutrition: Your Diet and Diabetes
Marissa Salvesen

By: Marissa Salvesen on April 16th, 2021

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Senior Nutrition: Your Diet and Diabetes

assisted living  |  senior nutrition  |  senior nutrition ct  |  senior living nutrition  |  health tips for seniors  |  Aging & Caregiving

At least 14 million Americans aged 65 and older live with diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, this disorder involves difficulty processing sugars from food, which can lead to dangerous levels of sugar in the blood. Diabetes is particularly concerning for the senior population, who are at increased risk for specific complications.


Whether you’re dealing with diabetes for the first time, concerned about a prediabetic condition, or managing an existing diagnosis, it’s important to stay focused on diet as a critical component of risk prevention and health. Meal planning is essential to this effort, which means first understanding what, how much, and how often you should eat. Here are some valuable tips and insights to support a healthy approach to senior nutrition that helps fight the risks of diabetes.  


Customization Is Key


The Nutrition Consensus Report published by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) indicates that “a ‘one-size-fits-all’ eating plan is not evident for the prevention or management of diabetes, and it is an unrealistic expectation given the broad spectrum of people affected by diabetes and prediabetes,” though “research provides clarity on many food choices and eating patterns that can help people achieve health goals and quality of life.”


So while there is some basic guidance to help inform your nutrition efforts, it’s important to acknowledge that each person’s body responds differently to various types of foods, diets, medications, and other factors. Therefore, it is necessary to build a customized nutrition approach based on the direction of (and regular monitoring from) your physician. 


There are several different eating patterns you might adopt to help you manage your diabetes, such as a Mediterranean diet, a vegetarian one, or a general focus on limiting carbohydrates. Regardless of which choice fits your lifestyle and tastes, it’s best to ensure you’re including plenty of non-starchy vegetables, minimizing added sugars and refined grains, and limiting processed foods.


Accounting for Carbs 


The human body turns carbohydrates into glucose, which means that carbohydrates in the food you consume raise your blood sugar levels. The rate at which carbs elevate blood sugar is determined by the type of food and what else you’re eating at the time. Protein, fat, and fiber, for instance, help slow the rate of increasing blood sugar.


Given the role carbs play in causing dips and spikes in blood sugar, it’s often recommended to create a meal plan structure that allows for regular, balanced meals containing about the same amount of carbs. Many people with diabetes use a carb-counting process to track the carbs in their meals, snacks, and drinks, which helps manage blood sugar in the larger scheme of individual activity levels, insulin doses, medications, and other factors. 


Regardless of how you and your doctor decide to go about accounting for carbs in your diet, make sure you’re following a regular process and keeping a close eye on this area. 


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Portioning Your Plate


One way to ensure you’re consuming a healthy balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates without feeling overwhelmed by a process of counting, calculating, weighing, or measuring is by leveraging the Plate Method. This visual model simplifies the effort to avoid overeating, consume enough protein and other essential nutrients, and limit the types of foods that have the most dramatic effect on blood sugar.  


It all starts with a 9-inch dinner plate, which you can fill according to the following proportions:


  • One half with non-starchy vegetables, such as salad, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots
  • One quarter with a lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, beans, tofu, or eggs
  • One quarter with carbohydrate foods like grains, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and peas), rice, pasta, beans, fruit, and yogurt (or a cup of milk). 


Once your plate is properly portioned based on this method, you can accompany it with a glass of water or a low-calorie drink. Be sure to check out the ADA’s Diabetes Food Hub for recipes and ideas that help put the Plate Method into practical action. 


“Superfoods” for Healthy Eating


Again, there’s no magic bullet for managing or preventing diabetes, as each approach must consider the unique needs and characteristics of a person’s body and health. That said, the ADA lists the following foods, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, as being good for overall health and potentially helpful in preventing disease. This list sets a good framework for the types of foods you might adopt in your meal planning as you navigate the challenges and risks of diabetes. 


  • Beans: Kidney, pinto, navy, or black beans are packed with vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, and are very high in fiber.
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables: Spinach, collards, and kale are packed with vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, calcium, and potassium. They are also low in calories and carbohydrates. 
  • Citrus fruit: Grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and limes help you consume your daily dose of fiber, vitamin C, folate, and potassium.
  • Sweet potatoes: These starchy vegetables are full of vitamin A and fiber, and are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. 
  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and other types of berries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, and they can be a great alternative to satisfying your sweet tooth. 
  • Tomatoes: Whether pureed, raw, or cooked in a sauce, tomatoes offer vital nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and potassium.
  • Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fats, like those found in salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout, and albacore tuna, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation. The ADA Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommends eating fish (mainly fatty fish) twice per week for people with diabetes. 
  • Nuts: These provide key healthy fats, as well as magnesium and fiber, and can help manage hunger. 
  • Whole grains: Whole oats, quinoa, whole-grain barley, and farro are rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium, B vitamins, chromium, iron and folate, and are a great source of fiber.  
  • Milk and yogurt: In addition to being rich in calcium, many milk and yogurt products are fortified to make them a good source of vitamin D. Look for yogurt products that are lower in fat and added sugar.


To find out how United Methodist Homes helps our residents maintain their nutritional needs, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog

About Marissa Salvesen

My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.