If you are responsible for the care of a senior parent, you may realize that so much of how your Dad or Mom feels depends on the quality of his or her diet. When Mom is eating many processed foods, she is just not going to feel as good as when she has a diet of healthy veggies, fresh fruits, lean meats, and whole grains. Seniors who live alone may struggle with eating correctly because cooking may be difficult, eating alone is depressing, and cleaning up the kitchen makes them tired at the end of the day. If your parent has a health problem that requires a restricted diet, making sure that your elderly loved one has appealing, healthy foods on hand can be a tricky puzzle.
When a person is diabetic, his or her body cannot properly moderate blood sugar levels. Diabetics must be careful not to eat too much sugar—even those in starches and healthy foods like fruits. Managing diabetes is not impossible, and once a person understands the effects that certain foods have on his or her blood sugar levels, he or she figures out ways to manage portion sizes and food combinations to avoid blood sugar spikes.
A healthy diabetic diet is not that different from a healthy diet for non-diabetic people: It should be low in saturated fat, vegetable heavy, include lean protein, and low in salt and sugars. The most important thing for diabetic seniors to remember is that their meals need to be planned, regular, and balanced. Diabetics should not allow themselves to go too long without eating, and they should generally avoid large portions of sugary or starchy foods.
If you’re shopping for a diabetic parent, good snack food purchases may include the following:
- Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
- Celery and peanut butter
- Hard boiled eggs
- String cheese sticks
- Broccoli florets and ranch dip
- Frozen, sugar-free popsicles
- Bell pepper slices and hummus
Starchy, sugary snacks like cookies, chips and crackers should not be a regular part of a diabetic's diet.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When a gluten-intolerant person eats anything containing gluten, the immune response damages the small intestine. If you are responsible for the care of a celiac senior, help them understand how important it is to stick to a gluten-free diet.
Those who have celiac disease should never consume anything that contains gluten. This is the only treatment for the disease. Anything containing rye, wheat, or barley is strictly off-limits. Even small things, like crumbs from the toaster, can be harmful for a celiac person. Thankfully, gluten-free foods are much easier to find nowadays. Here are a few ideas for gluten-free foods to have on hand for your loved one with celiac disease:
- Naturally gluten-free foods: fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts, dairy products, beans, legumes
- Gluten-free starches: potatoes, corn, quinoa, tapioca, rice, millet, gluten-free oats, nut flours (read labels to ensure that cross-contamination does not occur.)
- Gluten-free processed foods: Keep in mind that cereals, snacks, and treats that are marked "wheat-free" are not necessarily "gluten-free." Additionally, even things like canned soups, gravy mixes, and sauces can contain gluten. The labels of anything pre-packaged should be carefully read for ingredients that a person with celiac disease cannot eat.
Poor Cardiovascular Health
Those who have poor cardiovascular health, like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, should be careful with what they eat. Cardiovascular problems can be improved by sticking to a healthy diet. In general, those with high blood pressure and heart disease should minimize fatty, starchy, high sodium foods, and stick to healthy fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
Many people with heart conditions focus on what they can't eat and feel deprived, but there are plenty of tasty, heart-healthy foods. Good snack options may include:
- All the vegetables and fruits your loved one wants
- Low-fat, low-sugar dairy products, like yogurt and cheese sticks
- Whole grain breads
- Nuts, like walnuts and almonds
Senior care involves managing many details of your loved one's daily life. It may seem that diet is a minor thing to worry about, but when your loved one has cardiovascular issues, Celiac disease, or diabetes, the foods that he or she eats can make a big difference. Consult your parent’s doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian to get more information on how Mom or Dad should be eating for these conditions.