Food is important throughout the year, but it tends to be one of the main focuses at Christmas time. Everyone looks forward to the Christmas meals! This is the time to get excited about food and stimulate appetites. It’s another time to also think about whether the food restrictions we are placing on our residents, are appropriate or not.
As dietitians working in aged care, we find that many people are unaware of the appropriate foods for people with diabetes living in residential aged care facilities. You may be surprised to know that the recommendations for our residents differ to that for adults or children with diabetes.
Other Health Conditions
The long-term consequences of diabetes mostly occur as a result of 10 or more years of poor blood sugar level control. So the focus should be on managing symptoms of existing complications, and not to prevent new ones. People in aged care also often have other health conditions that take priority over optimal control of blood sugar levels.
Diabetic Diets are Ineffective
Interestingly, when residents change from following a restrictive diabetic diet to having regular meals, their blood sugar levels are not normally impacted and remain within the desired range. The desired blood sugar levels are usually assessed individually; however, the recommended level is approximately 6-12mmol/L for older people in RACF’s compared to 4-8mmol/L for younger persons.
Mental Health and Quality of Life
It is also important to consider a person’s mental well being. Research shows that people with diabetes more commonly suffer from poor mental health than those without diabetes. Food plays an integral role in a person’s social and mental well being. It can be a central component of a person’s day and is one of life’s great pleasures. Thus, it is imperative to provide foods that also have a positive impact on a person’s quality of life and offer them that extra bit of joy and happiness… which quite often is a deliciously moist cake with a smooth, creamy, rich custard!
Main goals for diabetes in aged care: Nourish to prevent weight loss and avoid unnecessary restriction.
A diabetic diet is not recommended for people with diabetes in RACF’s. Such a diet not only increases a person’s risk of malnutrition, it can also negatively impact their enjoyment of food and affect their quality of life. We need our residents to have as much choice as possible, to allow them to eat as much as they can.
People with diabetes who are in RACF’s should therefore be provided with the same food as that is served on the regular menu. That means they are allowed that serving of pavlova as dessert, the small slice of cake at morning tea or a teaspoon of sugar in their tea or coffee.
If a resident’s blood sugar still remains high, it may be more appropriate to adjust the person’s medication.
Before all the Christmas celebrations begin, think about whether you might be putting unnecessary food restrictions for those with diabetes. If so, is this something you could change for this year’s Christmas meal and then going forward as well?
For more information, please contact Leading Nutrition on 1300 712 722 or contact on the form below. Speak to your dietitian will be able to provide you and your staff training on diabetes and diet.
Note: This article provides general advice for most of the elderly population but should not be used for individual residents. Some residents may require individual recommendations. In which case it is important to involve your GP and dietitian.