According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every five minutes, fourteen people are newly diagnosed with diabetes, and two people die from causes related to the disease. If you care for a diabetic senior, you are acquainted with the very real impact a diabetes diagnosis has on not only that person’s life, but your life as well. Diet and exercise can go a long way in helping to manage the sugar disorder, but sometimes food options can be slim and even confusing with the assorted variety of alternative sweeteners. This article will endeavor to help bring about a better working understanding of diabetes, particularly type 2, and help present caregiving tips with alternative solutions to candy and other sweet-tooth snacks.
For many people who just find out they have a medical condition, the response can be mixed. On one hand, there is relief at finally finding out what the problem is. On the other hand, there is a sense of overwhelming uncertainty with what comes next. How do you begin to manage this life changing news? When recently diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to understand that over 95% of people diagnosed later in life have Type 2. That is good news and with a little know-how and tips from the experts, life can still be enjoyed.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is also referred to as adult onset diabetes because Type 1 is a condition most often identified in children and very young adults. Type 1 is an insulin deficiency in which the body just doesn’t make insulin at all. Insulin is the hormone necessary to break down glucose in a way that cells can use. Type 2 is the most common form and occurs when a person’s body doesn’t use insulin correctly. It is closely linked to obesity, and certain medications can play a role in its development. Diet plays an important role in keeping Type 2 diabetes under control and as a caregiver, that responsibility largely falls to you.
When most people hear of diabetes, they immediately think of sugary foods and the need to eliminate them, but caring for a diabetic senior involves much more than managing a sweet tooth. An entire diet makeover is often in order and involves limiting the amount of food with smaller portion sizes and creating a variety of well-rounded options. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends the following healthier choices when it comes to restructuring eating habits:
- Evenly space meals throughout the whole day
- Do not skip meals
- Eat a variety of foods from the entire food pyramid, including healthy fats, whole grains, lean proteins, and even fruits
- Limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn
- Don’t eat too much at once or more than one type of food in one day
- Limit or avoid alcohol intake, which causes sharp changes in blood sugar
The ADA has also created an interactive visual tool called “Create Your Plate!” to help with meal planning and proper portion control. It helps people in showing just how much of what type of food to incorporate, and limit, at meal times. Managing adult onset diabetes is about much more than watching sugars, it is an entire diet makeover, changing the way a person eats and when they eat, not just what they eat.
There are so many non-traditional sweeteners on the supermarket shelves these days, it can be mind boggling trying to decide which one may help and which one may send your diabetic senior to the hospital. There are studies that show artificial sweeteners may contribute to adverse health conditions including cancers, so how do you know which ones are safe?
The FDA has come out with an approved list of six tested artificial sweeteners that can be consumed safely in recommended amounts by diabetics. Those six artificial sweeteners are found as the active ingredient in the following multiple brand names:
- Sweet One
- Sweet ‘N Low
- Sweet Twin
Moderation is the key. When someone becomes a Type 2 diabetic, it is unrealistic to assume that all sweet foods should be eliminated forever. Finding candies and making snacks with these approved sweeteners are a beneficial way to help minimize blood sugar spikes, but they are still not healthy and should be incorporated into an overall healthy lifestyle change.
Another benefit to utilizing artificial sweeteners over table sugar is the low-calorie property. Because Type 2 diabetes and obesity are closely linked, losing just a few pounds can help with stabilizing blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners are low-calorie alternatives that serve a dual purpose.
A Closer Look at Stevia/ Rebaudioside A
Stevia is one of the newest artificial sweeteners on the market in our country and the most recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in turn by the ADA for use by diabetics. Truvia and PureVia are derivatives of Stevia and are on the approved list because of the chemical component Rebaudioside A, which is deemed “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA and shared by all three sweeteners. They are all considered suitable for Type 2 diabetics because they are 200-350 times sweeter than table sugar, yet do not increase blood glucose levels. A word to the wise: there are still cautionary notes from many sources when choosing artificial sweeteners because there is still a lot to learn about their long term effects.
Old habits die hard, and for someone who has become accustomed to a sweet treat after lunch, finding low sugar alternatives can be a bit tricky. A few ADA recommended snacks include:
- 1 medium banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- ¼ cup dried fruit and nut mix
- ½ cup sugar-free gelatin
- 1 frozen sugar-free popsicle
Another idea is to look at recipe websites and search for recipes that use alternative sweeteners and even bananas to replace table sugar. It may take a few trial and error runs in the kitchen to find a tasty alternative to store bought cookies and candy bars, but it opens up options. Finding new recipes allows the diabetic senior in your care to feel more in control of his or her life and assure the person that there are options, which is an important part of living with Type 2 and getting older.
You have heard the saying “diet and exercise” over and over again. It is on commercials and pamphlets from the doctor, but it is a very accurate and simple way to care for your diabetic senior. There are two main reasons why exercise should accompany a diet makeover:
- Exercise helps to lower blood glucose levels by speeding the metabolism up and more effectively processing sugar.
- Exercise helps to burn calories and lose weight
It doesn’t have to be much to make a difference. A simple walk after dinner or choosing to park farther away from the store, all add up to the recommended goal of thirty minutes a day for five days a week. Swimming is highly recommended for diabetic seniors as water helps to alleviate and prevent joint pain. If blood sugars are a little too high, a brisk walk can help to stabilize them.
Caregiving Tips for the Diabetic Senior in Your Life
Taking care of a diabetic senior is a comprehensive endeavor. According to the American Diabetes Association, there are some tips for caregivers that can go a long way in improving the quality of life for the both of you. By taking a proactive role in gaining knowledge and making healthier choices, the two of you can live the healthiest lives possible.
- Learn as much as you can now. Diabetes does not have to be a death sentence and at the same time it is a big deal. People diagnosed with it can live meaningful lives when the disease is properly managed. Educating yourself now will better prepare you and your senior with the right resources for the long haul.
- Take time to process things. It is impossible to make all the changes necessary overnight. Acceptance comes gradually.
- Encourage your senior to practice self-care. Within the realm of possibility, taking care of a diabetic senior is easier when they are on board and make choices of their own.
- Make necessary changes together. This helps the person understand they are not alone. Making new recipes and participating in light exercises together can make the lifestyle changes less overwhelming.
- Setting small goals makes them more achievable.
- Take care of yourself in the process. Caring for a diabetic senior can be stressful. Find a support group or friend to help you cope with the stress of change.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet and lifestyle program that works for every diabetic senior. There are often other health complications that can make living with Type 2 diabetes seem like a tightrope walk. Incorporating small and achievable changes over the long term will allow caregivers to better manage their diabetic senior’s health in an individualized setting.
CDC. Diabetes: Data and Statistics. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/index.html. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
Wahowiak, Lindsey. (March 2014). 8 Tips for Caregivers. American Diabetes Association. Available at http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/8-tips-for-caregivers.html. Last Retrieved February 11, 2016.
American Diabetes Association. Choosing What, How Much, and When to Eat. Available at http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/where-do-i-begin/choosing-what-to-eat.html. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
Global Stevia Institute. Living With Diabetes. Available at http://globalsteviainstitute.com/consumers/nutrition-health/stevia-and-diabetes/. Retrieved February 11, 2016.