Nutrition for Diabetes in Seniors — Type 1, Type 2 & Prediabetes

Man in Green Parka Jacket Covering His Face With His Hand Eating an Apple; represents the concept of healthy nutrition for diabetes diet for older adults

Millions of people in the United States live with diabetes or prediabetes, including millions of older adults, making diabetes a major health concern for seniors or people with aging relatives. One of—if not the—most crucial aspects of diabetes management is a healthy diet. Here's how many people can adjust their diets to better manage their diabetes.*

Nutrition for Type 1 Diabetes

Although it is commonly known as juvenile diabetes, people can receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis at any age, and the condition is lifelong, meaning plenty of seniors have this condition.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin or the pancreas produces too little of it. Insulin is crucial for managing blood glucose levels, or blood sugar levels. Without insulin, cells don't get the glucose they need for energy while excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream. The result is that people with untreated type 1 diabetes are at increased risk for serious conditions, including:

While there is no known cure or prevention for this disease, people can manage it with insulin and a healthy diet. A diabetes diet for someone with type 1 should focus on controlling carbohydrate intake, as carbs can raise blood glucose levels. But a good diet for type 1 diabetics should focus not just on limiting carbs, but also in consistently eating roughly the same amount of carbs every day (if the individual takes fixed doses of insulin) and eating at regular intervals to prevent spikes and sharp drops in glucose levels throughout the day.

Good food choices for type 1 diabetics include non-starchy vegetables (like kale, spinach, and carrots), whole grains (like brown rice and quinoa), lean meats, legumes, and whole fruits (instead of fruit juices).

Nutrition for Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in the United States, with upwards of 90% of individuals with diabetes having type 2. Unlike type 1 diabetics, type 2 diabetics can produce their own insulin. However, type 2 diabetics are resistant to insulin, meaning that this hormone cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels the way it should.

Type 2 diabetes is mostly caused by controllable risk factors like excess body weight/obesity, not eating a balanced diet, and leading a sedentary lifestyle. That means the best ways to combat this condition are healthy weight loss, developing a healthy eating plan, and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis.

Foods to avoid or limit with type 2 diabetes include refined grains and cereals like white rice, red meat, starches/carbs, high-fat dairy products, processed foods with added sugar, and foods high in saturated fats and trans fats. Foods to enjoy with type 2 diabetes include low-fat dairy products, foods with "healthy fats" (peanut butter, olive oil, etc.), legumes, and vegetables like kale and sweet potatoes.

Nutrition for Prediabetes

Prediabetes occurs when someone is at enhanced risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to increasing resistance to insulin, which causes elevated blood sugar levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 96 million US adults (18+) have prediabetes. Of those, 26.4 million are older adults (65+).

The good news about prediabetes is that it is reversible. Eating healthy foods is a core component of diabetes prevention, and it can reduce the body's resistance to insulin, helping to keep AC1/blood glucose levels within a healthy range. Carb counting and reducing sugar intake are key parts of mitigating diabetes, as well as keeping portion sizes smaller.

Nutrition for All Types of Diabetes

No matter what type of diabetes someone has, the following tips can help anyone better maintain blood glucose levels.

Reducing Sugar

Reducing Carbs

  • Use food labels to see just how many total carbohydrates are in a suggested serving to better track total carb intake.
  • Choose high-quality carbs like whole grain bread, brown rice, and quinoa. Avoid highly processed, low-quality carbs like white bread and white rice.
  • Use the glycemic index to better decide which foods are right for the individual. The glycemic index rates foods on how much/how quickly they can raise blood sugar levels; foods with a lower number are typically better for people with diabetes.

Diabetes Care at St. Andrew's

No matter what type of diabetes someone has, the key is to maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active, and have a diet that is conscientious of carbs, added sugars, and "unhealthy" fats. At St. Andrew's, we tailor meal plans to our residents' individual needs and wants. That means crafting healthy meals that are also delicious, so that mealtime is truly something to savor every day.

Contact us to learn more about how we accommodate all residents' dietary needs.

*Disclaimers: This article does not constitute professional medical advice. The information contained herein cannot diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or condition. Do not make any changes to diet or lifestyle without first consulting a registered dietitian or other healthcare provider.

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