By the year 2025, two-thirds of the people who have diabetes will be age 60 or older, reports a 2009 article in the "International Journal of Diabetes Mellitus." Along with this medical condition, older diabetics are more likely to have hypertension, cardiovascular disease or dyslipidemia as well. These diseases, along with other factors such as appetite and mobility, can affect the nutrition of an elderly diabetes patient. But there’s no one right list of foods for everyone, so speak with your doctor or a dietitian to determine which diet is best for you.
Standard Diabetes Diet
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends a general breakdown of macronutrients for a diabetic. Around 45 percent to 65 percent of total daily calories should come from carbohydrates, but not just any old carbohydrate -- the best options are high in fiber. Another 25 percent to 35 percent of daily calories can come from fat, mostly of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated variety. The remainder of calories should come from protein, though the medical center is careful to note that this can vary based on a person’s health requirements. For example, a diabetic who’s also struggling with kidney disease will need to keep his protein intake to about 10 percent. Within these three groups, certain foods will help manage your diabetes better than others.
Carbohydrates have the biggest impact on your blood sugar, making it the most influential macronutrient when it comes to controlling diabetes. All diabetics should eat at least 130 grams of carbohydrates a day, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. The American Diabetes Association recommends choosing whole grains and nutrient-rich starchy vegetables for your carbohydrates. Basic whole-grain options include oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice and quinoa. If eating bread, cereal or crackers, look at ingredient lists and choose one that has a whole grain -- such as whole-wheat flour, oats or barley -- as its first ingredient. Top options for starchy vegetables include parsnips, pumpkin, green peas, squash, corn, beans and lentils. You should also eat three to five servings of nonstarchy vegetables per day; options include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery and dark leafy greens.
Protein-Rich Foods and Fat
Although the right amount of protein can vary from person to person, protein-energy malnutrition -- in which a person does not consume enough protein -- is a problem in older diabetics, leading to significant weight loss, according to the 2009 review of studies published in “International Journal of Diabetes Mellitus." Talk to your doctor about the right amount of protein for your health conditions, and then stock up on healthy, protein-rich foods such as fish, skinless chicken or turkey, nonfat or low-fat dairy products and legumes. Additionally, some fat is needed for healthy body function; choose monounsaturated options such as olive oil, nuts and avocados and polyunsaturated fats such as fish, flaxseed and walnuts.
Exceptions for the Elderly
Because an elderly person struggling with diabetes might also have other health concerns to deal with, such as constipation, dementia, heart disease or a poor appetite, the Australian Diabetes Council recommends making some exceptions to a typical diabetes diet. For example, full-fat dairy products might not be on the list of basic foods for elderly diabetics, but it might help an elderly patient retain body weight and strength. Along the same lines, if a small amount of sugar helps someone eat more nutritious foods, the council recommends it as an option.
- International Journal of Diabetes Mellitus: Nutritional Challenges in the Elderly with Diabetes
- Australian Diabetes Council: Nutrition and the Dependant Elderly with Diabetes
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Diabetes Diet
- American Diabetes Association: Grains and Starchy Vegetables
- American Diabetes Association: Non-Starchy Vegetables