Are low-carb diets good for seniors? Refined carbs, such as those found in processed food, don’t contain many nutrients and—if consumed chronically—can greatly increase the risk for conditions like heart disease.
Low-carb diets for seniors can help limit low-quality carbohydrates while focusing on higher-quality carbs, like whole grains. Read on for more information on low-carb diets, including the best low-carb diet for seniors.
What Is a Low-Carb Diet?
Low-carbohydrate diets, commonly called low-carb diets, don’t have an agreed-upon definition. However, all low-carb diets reduce the amount of overall carbohydrates and limit foods high in refined grains and sugar, especially baked goods, candy, and soda. Very low-carb diets reduce carbs to less than 45% of total calories—or fewer than 130 grams—consumed daily.
While they are usually pursued for weight loss reasons, there are other situations where limiting carbs could provide certain health benefits for older adults. For example, low-carb diets are thought to improve insulin resistance since high intakes of refined carbohydrates can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels return to normal, blood pressure will likely stabilize.
Are Low-Carb Diets Good for Seniors?
If your doctor has recommended changes in diet for weight loss, a low-carb diet may be the key. Low-carb diets can help induce weight loss over a period of 6-12 months.
Seniors with type 2 diabetes may also want to employ a low-carb diet for the purpose of carbohydrate control. Limiting carbohydrates to a safe level improves glycemic control. In other words, low-carb diets can be a way to help balance the body’s blood sugars, with or without the help of medicine.
Low-carb diets may also improve other metabolic markers and risks linked with heart disease. Diets lower in carbs may be able to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while increasing levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL).
Low-Carb Diets for Seniors: Benefits
In general, and thanks to changing nutritional needs, older adults are at risk for malnutrition. Studies show that some seniors have an excessive intake of sugars (which come from carbs) and an excessive intake of snacks and saturated fats (which are common in foods made from refined carbohydrates). So even though some seniors are getting enough calories, they aren’t getting enough nutrients.
Reduce Refined Carbs & Focus on Flavor
Low-carb diets can promote a reduction of refined-carb foods while still allowing the consumption of high-quality carbs like whole grains. Limiting carbs can also help you become more creative, such as focusing on the flavors of healthy fats like olive oil instead of carb-heavy main dishes involving rice or pasta.
May Be Helpful for Certain Conditions
For seniors with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s, low-carb diets may show promise. Two low-carb diets, the ketogenic and a modified Atkin’s diet, have been studied about these diseases, but more research is needed to ensure long-term effects. While these diets may benefit these populations, adherence is an issue since memory is impaired.
A low-carb, low-glycemic eating pattern may also reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. While most of the existing studies have been done on mice, insights suggest that lowering carb intake may protect against vision loss for older adults. Like low-carb diets for neurodegenerative disorders, more studies are needed to know for sure.
Low-Carb Diets for Seniors: Risks
Since low-carb diets can be used to lose weight, they may not be right for everyone. The recommended daily carb intake for older adults is 45-65% of total calorie intake, or at least 130 grams daily.
Decreasing carbohydrates beyond this amount means you’ll need to plan to eat a higher percentage of lean proteins and healthy fats to compensate. Since proteins and fats feel more filling to eat, this may not be manageable for certain seniors and can alter their appetite. Proteins and fats can also be harder to digest, which can be difficult for seniors with intestinal issues.
Some Diets Cut Carbs Severely
Diets like the ketogenic or keto diet may reduce carbohydrates too severely. Many keto eating patterns reduce carbs to 20-50 grams daily to induce nutritional ketosis, where the keto diet gets its name. This may result in dangerously low blood sugar levels, which can cause symptoms like fatigue.
Some Diets Make Nutrient Deficiencies More Likely
Some diets even suggest completely cutting out foods like starchy vegetables and fruit. This can put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies and may even reduce the amount of beneficial compounds like antioxidants in your body.
Additionally, fiber is a type of carb, and many Americans already consume less carbs than they should. Cutting carbs below the normal level can make consuming enough fiber throughout the day difficult.
Not All Low-Carb Foods are “Healthy”
To complicate matters, not all low-carb foods are considered “healthy.” For example, foods like coconut oil are often touted as low-carb and “healthy” even though they contain higher levels of saturated fats.
When consuming low-carb foods, it’s still important to look at the label and ingredients to ensure the food fits your lifestyle well.
Best Low-Carb Diet for Seniors Example
The Mediterranean diet may make sense if you’re looking for more formal, low-carb diet plans. The Mediterranean diet includes many nutrient-dense, plant-based foods that are naturally low in carbohydrates. The pattern also includes quality carbs, many of which come from whole grains and fruits.
Don’t forget that diet plans can also include meal delivery! You can order options like Silver Cuisine low-carb meals to make meal planning easier. Delivered right to your doorstep, meal delivery can make low-carb eating easy and delicious.
Remember, low-carb eating doesn’t have to be complicated, nor should it be! It can be as simple as swapping your noodles for plant-based pasta or pairing your usual apple at snacktime with peanut butter for protein. Although it may take some adjusting, eating low-carb can be worth it in the long run for your health.
The Last Word on Low-Carb Diets for Seniors
While the low-carb diet isn’t right for everyone, it provides an easy way to achieve weight loss for many seniors. Reducing refined carbs in the diet is a crucial part of a healthy diet, and may be able to help you manage age-related struggles.
Whether you’re into cooking at home or ordering meal delivery, low-carb meals can focus on flavor and be extremely filling—thanks to higher protein levels and healthy fats.
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