Discover Healthy Meal Preparation Tips for Diabetic Seniors
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may already be aware of the important role a healthy diet can play in managing your disease. Although there is no cure for diabetes, the choices you make every day can help you control your blood sugar levels and reduce your symptoms. With a proper diet and exercise program, you can live an active, healthy life.
It might sound easier said than done, though. Eliminating bad eating habits or changing your lifestyle can seem challenging in the face of a diabetes diagnosis. Your health is worth the effort to learn how to prepare diabetes-friendly meals and make choices that will keep your diabetes in check.
TIP: Discover our companion blog on the 10 Best Low Glycemic Index Foods for Diabetics.
Meals for Diabetic Seniors
Diabetes is a disease involving your body’s ability to convert food intake to energy output. After you eat a meal, glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, and the glucose travels into the cells to supply you with energy. If you have diabetes, you need to be careful about the foods you eat because if the glucose in your blood is too high or too low for an extended time, you can end up in a diabetic coma.
Seniors also need to pay close attention to their diet. As the National Council on Aging (NCOA) points out, your metabolism gets slower with age, requiring fewer calories. When you eat less, it’s best to focus on healthy choices to ensure you get the most nutritional value out of your food.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that 29.2% of Americans 65 years of age or older have diabetes. Finding the proper diet and nutrition for seniors with diabetes is crucial for managing the condition. Your doctor can help guide you to a nutritionist or give you more information, but let’s go over some common foods you may want to incorporate into your diet.
TIP: Are you looking for easy-to-prepare meals to make at home that don’t require a lot of time or culinary equipment? Check out our 6 One Pot Quick and Easy Healthy Meals for Seniors blog.
Best Foods for Elderly Diabetics
The best foods for a diabetic diet for older adults help keep blood sugar (glucose), blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the appropriate ranges. Choose dishes high in nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. If you buy packaged products, make it a habit to read food labels to avoid items with too much added sugar, salt, fat, carbohydrates, or preservatives.
The ADA recommends fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein but not in equal amounts. The Diabetes Plate Method visually depicts the recommended amount of each type of food on your plate for each meal. Imagine a plate half-packed with non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter filled with foods in the protein group and the other quarter occupied by carbohydrates.
Here is a sample list of foods in each category:
- Non-starchy vegetables: asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, mushrooms, green beans, bell and hot peppers, lettuce, squash and tomatoes
- Lean protein: fish, lean beef, cheese, soy and chicken
- Plant-based protein: beans, lentils, nuts, edamame, tofu and plant-based meat substitutes
- Carbohydrates: whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, pasta and bread), starchy vegetables (squash, peas and potatoes), beans, legumes, fruit and dairy
You’ll want to be careful with carbohydrates when planning a meal for elderly diabetics. Still, the ADA warns that a dish abundant in protein and fat can alter how your body absorbs carbohydrates. Track how specific foods impact your blood glucose levels, and discuss with your healthcare provider.
TIP: Discover if nutritional drinks and protein shakes are good for seniors.
Diabetic Meal Planning and Meal Prep Tips
- Schedule mealtime around the same time every day, and count your carbs, following the guidance of your healthcare team in choosing a carb-counting method that works for you.
- Exercise discipline in portion control, remembering that obesity increases your diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk.
- Limit your intake of highly processed and sugary foods, which may give you a burst of energy initially but lead to a sudden wave of fatigue.
- Focus on whole foods like non-starchy vegetables and plant protein for long-lasting energy and overall health benefits.
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Diabetic Meals for Seniors
The Diabetes Food Hub has some great ideas for diabetic recipes for seniors. Here are some examples of optimal nutrition choices for your main courses:
- Breakfast burrito with eggs, ham, cheese, vegetables, corn tortillas and salsa
- Pancakes made with oat flour, eggs, skim milk, mashed banana and nuts
- Smoothie with nonfat Greek yogurt, fruit and unsweetened almond milk
- Chicken soup with fresh chicken, squash, onion, garlic, carrots, corn and spices
- Pasta salad with whole wheat pasta, chicken, light mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, red bell pepper, cucumber, broccoli, carrot and spices
- Vegetable wrap with a whole wheat tortilla, hummus, and grilled squash, zucchini and bell pepper
- Turkey chili with lean ground turkey, diced tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and spices
- Chicken and vegetable casserole with whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, chicken, mushroom soup and cheese
- Meatloaf with lean ground turkey, onion, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, egg substitute, oatmeal and spices
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Does Medicare Cover Nutrition or Meal Delivery Services?
Original Medicare does not cover meal delivery, but you may have other options. Some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans partner with meal delivery organizations, so you can have home-delivered meals after you are discharged from the hospital. Registered dietitians tailor each meal to offer you a consistent diet, relieve the burden of shopping and cooking, and manage health conditions like diabetes. Check if your MA plan includes this benefit.
Medicare Part B may cover medical nutrition therapy services through a Registered Dietician if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. If you live in a rural or remote area and don’t have access to an appropriate provider who accepts assignment, you may be able to use telehealth services to get nutrition therapy. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have at least the same coverage as Part A and Part B, but many plans include additional services. Check with your plan directly for specific benefit information.
Another option to consider is Meals on Wheels. This is a community-based nutrition program for seniors and people with chronic health conditions. The meals are free, though the organization may ask for a donation.
About 62% of the nutrition program participants are 75 years of age or older. And, about 90% of participants reported three or more medical conditions. By entering your zip code on the Meals on Wheels website, you can search for the program in proximity to where you live. If you explain that you have diabetes, the coordinator can modify meals to accommodate your dietary needs.
TIP: Use an online tool such as the Medicare Plan Finder to help you discover which plans offer coverage for nutritional and dietary services.
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