Adjusting Food Lifestyle To Help Older Adults Deal With Type 2 Diabetes

older woman taking baked apple dessert out of an oven

By Patricia LaCroix, Contributing Writer

If you are an older adult who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes — or if you care for someone who has the disease — you might be struggling with the lifestyle changes suggested by your doctor. One might very well be that of diet.

Food is an important part of life. It sustains life, for sure. We couldn’t survive without it. But food can be and is so much more. It literally adds flavor to our lives. The different taste sensations can bring joy to an otherwise mundane, predictable lifestyle. Our social lives often revolve around meals as well. Mealtime is usually when people talk and share about their day, their life, their well-being, their interests, and more! It’s also a reason to go out — to try a new restaurant, to experience different food cultures, to visit an old-time favorite food spot, or to simply get out of the house.

But now, with the new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, a person’s life as it revolves around food might need to change. It’s easy to anticipate that such a lifestyle shift to be unpleasant. A diabetic might be grieving the loss of many foods he or she once enjoyed. Most diabetic diets are low in sugar and carbohydrates in general. Many of these foods — such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and warm bread, as well as sweet puddings, cakes, and pies — are viewed as “comfort” foods. They make people, in general, feel good — not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Plus, adults often lose the sense of taste as they grow older. Out of the 5 tastes (bitter, sour, salty, savory, and sweet), the taste sensation of sweetness is very often the last taste sensation to go. Sweets, therefore, might be providing the one taste that a senior can still fully experience and enjoy.

Different, not worse

With such a change in diet, food tastes, and even behavior around food, can our connection to food and how it relates to our lifestyle really be as enjoyable as it once was?

The truth is, while life might be different, it doesn’t have to be worse because of diabetes. There are many ways to approach your new diet that will keep it interesting and yes, even sweet. Here are some steps seniors and their caregivers can take to adjust diet appropriately without feeling deprived.

Step 1: Get creative with your food

For many, a good part of the joy of food comes from preparing it. Meal prep can be an avenue for creative expression, just as other arts and craft hobbies are.

How many of us enjoy the challenge of a good crossword or jigsaw puzzle? Think of the new diet and creating appropriate meals as a challenge, rather than a burden. Adopting this more positive mindset can help shift one’s outlook on a new diet and make exploring it fun and rewarding, rather than a loss.

A great website to come up with new ideas is https://www.myplate.gov/. There you’ll find sample meal plans that might fit the senior’s new, healthier eating style. It also includes a quiz that can help customize meals to the senior’s needs.

Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure these meals are appropriate for someone with type 2 diabetes.

Step 2: Explore new tastes

Perhaps in the past, the diabetic senior wasn’t a fan of vegetables. Or, maybe fish was never a regular staple of his or her diet.

This is a great opportunity to try a variety of new foods that were either disliked or were never even tried in the past. Be adventurous! Try new spices, flavors, and ways to prepare foods, especially those from other cultures. You or the older adult you care for might just discover that a love for these new tastes and even a lament that they weren’t tried sooner! Mix tastes up frequently, to help make meals more exciting and enjoyable, thanks to variety.

Step 3: Pretty up your plate

When it comes to food psychology, how it looks can be as important as how it tastes. An attractive meal can be more enjoyable and palatable than something that appears to be bland and unappealing.

A great way to make a dish more attractive is by using colorful food. Try to have foods of several different colors on your plate. Also, by consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors, you will give your body more of the micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for good health.

Beyond the food itself, you can make the eating environment more attractive as well. Take out the good china. Use the crystal glasses. Pull out the good silverware. Put out a pretty tablecloth and napkins. Maybe even dim the lights to create some ambiance. There’s no reason to hold back on making your dining experience as enjoyable as possible. And, if the senior enjoys being social, perhaps invite company to join for dinner!

Step 4: Enjoy eating out

Just because you diet is different doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go out for dinner anymore. There are many restaurants that will cater to special requests from their patrons. Often their menus will have at least a few choices that will fit into a healthy diabetic lifestyle. Just be mindful with your choices. Pass on the bread, and hold out for a larger enjoyment of your dinner to come. Eat smaller portions by planning in advance to take some of the food home. Avoid things that might not be on your diet, such as sugary desserts and soda pop, and indulge instead on things you can eat, such as properly prepared vegetables and lean meat.

Look at eating out as an overall experience — the socialness of company and your interactions with the environment of the restaurant itself — as opposed to focusing too much on the meal. Perhaps order something that would be difficult to have and prepare at home, to make the meal itself that more special.

Step 5: Consider alternatives and replacements

Just because simple carbohydrates need to be reduced or eliminated from a diabetic diet doesn’t mean that the sensation of sweetness needs to be as well. Today, there are a number of sugar alternatives on the market, many of which have a “natural” origin, as opposed to be artificial. They taste, look, and can be used amazingly like sugar, but without the same effect on blood sugar levels. Many desserts from scratch can be baked by using these sugar substitutes in place of sugar, on a 1:1 ration.

There are also many food products on the market nowadays that cater specifically to those needing or wanting to reduce their intake of sugar. This includes low-carbohydrate or sugar-free breads, cookies, and puddings, just to name a few of the prepared options.

This means seniors with diabetes don’t necessarily have to abandon their enjoyment of sweet cakes, pies, and cookies altogether. This helps keep the person who suffers from diabetes from feeling deprived and avoids any feelings of loss due to new diet restrictions.

Check, of course, with your doctor first to make sure these sugar substitutes fit well into the prescribed diet and will not go against any of medical conditions or medications taken.

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