With Age Comes Wisdom (and Sometimes the Need for More Fiber!)
Aging is part of life…changes in body fat distribution (hello, back fat!), muscle strength, hearing, eyesight, hair, and skin texture are all continuously adjusting and readjusting for many reasons. Several conditions- including diabetes- also affect and are affected by aging. Adapting to change isn’t always easy, but it’s often important to maintain strength, independence, and quality of life. A few small adjustments in our nutritional habits can make a significant difference in our general health and well-being. Here are a few tips for supporting our nutritional needs that can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes:
As we age, our sense of thirst may decrease, leading to an increased risk of infections, blood clots, fatigue, and dizziness. Hydration needs are individual – it’s not always 8 cups of water per day for everyone. Your urine should be the color of pale lemonade. Don’t forget, you can get hydration from fruits and vegetables (they’re about 90% water, including fresh, frozen, and canned varieties). Coffee, tea, and other fluids also keep us hydrated (except for alcohol).
2. Enjoy Regular Meals and Snacks
Eating regular meals and snacks is not just to help stabilize blood glucose, but it’s also to ensure adequate nutritional intake. As people age, many find they fill up sooner, and undernutrition and malnutrition can sneak up easily. Consider the “Rule of 3s”: 3 meals/3 snacks, something to eat (or a nutritious fluid) every 3 hours. This can also help decrease excessive hunger (especially later in the day) and keep our digestive system running smoothly.
3. Eat Protein in Divided Doses
High-quality protein sources help maintain muscle tissue and strength, reducing the risk of frailty, falls, and fractures. High-quality, easy-to-prepare and easy-to-eat protein sources include eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, canned tuna, canned salmon, canned chicken, tofu, and milk. Aiming for approximately 20-25 grams of protein per main meal, and including a protein source with snacks (such as string cheese sticks, nuts, or nut butters) can help reach a target of 60-80 grams of protein per day. Protein needs may vary depending on your medical condition and other health needs (such as kidney disease, surgery recovery, or wound healing) so check with your physician and Registered Dietitian for individualized recommendations.
4. Remember: Fiber Is Fantastic
Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables help keep our gastrointestinal system running smoothly, and contribute to better blood sugar and cholesterol management. Soluble fibers – the fiber found in oats, beans, fruits and vegetables, and psyllium fiber supplements such as Metamucil – are fermented in the lower intestinal tract to short-chain fatty acids which help strengthen the lining of the gut and are an important part of our immune system.
5. Eat for Pleasure and Practicality
Joy and pleasure in eating is a quality-of-life factor that everyone deserves. Our tastebuds can change as we age, and our choices and preferences may shift from earlier years. Feeling guilty about eating certain foods has no place in nutrition, and working with a Registered Dietitian can help you include your favorite foods as part of your nutrition plan. Practicality is important, as having the energy and strength to prepare meals can also be impacted. Pre-chopped, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables can help ease the burden, and frozen or ready-to-heat and eat meals can supplement a healthful diet. A sandwich, omelet, or quesadilla can be an easy and nutritious option any time of day. A nutritional drink formulated for those with diabetes can also “fill in the gaps” when cooking, eating, and chewing may be a problem. Remember, fed is best!
As life goes on, our needs continue to change, and that is normal. There may be a need for alternative methods of nutritional support or further relaxation of any nutritional restrictions. Our focus should be on goals of care, comfort, and quality of life. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to eat for everyone, and perfectionism around eating has damaging side effects of its own. When we can focus on a relaxed, healthy, joyful relationship with eating and with our body, our health is enhanced at all stages of life.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to start with and expand on, depending on your nutritional preferences. As we age, we need to adjust things like medications, shoes, eyeglasses, and other aspects of life, and nutritional needs are no different. For more ideas and resources, ask your healthcare team for a referral to a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist.