An estimated 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year — and according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), seniors are disproportionally at risk for the disease.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 25% of adults aged 65 or older currently have diabetes. One reason: The risk increases with age; experts from the ADA say that the aging population is an important driver of the diabetes epidemic.
Seniors are also at risk for diabetes-related complications, including heart disease and sexual dysfunction. Although there's no "cure" for diabetes, you can manage your condition with medicine (if needed), regular exercise, and — importantly — a good diet plan.
Smart snacking for seniors who have diabetes
Regardless of what you may have heard, you don't have to fear carbohydrates if you have type 2 diabetes. "The truth is, few foods are off limits," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a nutritionist and author of The 2-Day Diabetes Diet.
Still, having too many carbohydrates at one time can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. So the key, says Palinski-Wade, is to monitor your portion sizes and space out your carb intake throughout the day. "This keeps blood sugar levels as consistent as possible," she says.
The same rules apply to snacks, too. "People are more likely to underestimate [what constitutes a snack]," says Leslie Bonci, RD, MPH, a dietician and owner of Active Eating Advice. For example, it's not uncommon for someone to grab a handful of pretzels midday and expect that to tide them over until dinner.
"Pairing a carbohydrate with a source of protein or fat can help you to feel more satisfied with the meal," says Palinski-Wade. Plus, it also "may slow down the conversion of carbohydrate into sugar slightly, which may also help aid blood sugar control."
Here are a few well-balanced snack options to try — each one contains less sugar than a medium-sized banana (which, in case you were wondering, clocks in at about 14.4 grams of sugar).
With 2.3 grams of fiber per two cup serving, this snack option can help fill you up while having a minimal impact on blood sugar levels (and waistline), says Palinski-Wade. She also recommends sweetening it up with a sprinkle of cinnamon. "Cinnamon has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity," she says.
Serving size: 2 cups
Sugar: 1.4 grams
Carbohydrates: 12.4 grams
Hummus and carrots
Bonci recommends snacking on hummus and carrots — and emphasizes the importance of pairing produce with a healthy dose of protein and fat.
Serving size: ¼ cup hummus* + ½ cup baby carrots
Sugar: 3.07 grams
Along with being a good source of protein and fiber, a combination that can help you to stay full longer, pistachios are made up of nearly 90% unsaturated fat. "The leftover shells also provide a visual cue as to how much you have eaten," says Palinski-Wade, "which can help with portion control and to cut down on 'mindless' snacking."
Serving size: 25 kernels
Sugar: 1.3 grams
Carbohydrates: 4.75 grams
Low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
"Low fat cottage cheese contains a good source of protein, while providing fewer carbs than yogurt," says Palinski-Wade. "It's a great option for balancing blood sugar levels." (If you need to add a little more flavor to the food, top it with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds or sweeten it by adding your own fresh fruit.)
Serving size: ½ cup
Sugar: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 3 grams
Crackers and mozzarella
Bonci recommends five whole-grain crackers with an ounce of mozzarella, which packs 6.2 grams of protein and 6.2 grams of fat.
Serving size: 5 crackers + 1 oz. mozzarella
Sugar: .3 grams
Carbohydrates: 16.7 grams
Calories: 183 calories