Heart health for men

Nutrition For Aging Men: Controlling Your Hemoglobin A1C

Aging can feel like a passive process, one day you’re 25 and the next you’re receiving AARP letters in the mail. Taking control of your health gives you control of aging, especially when it comes to managing health conditions like diabetes. In this article, you’ll learn how diet and exercise are key parts of controlling your diabetes and lowering your hemoglobin A1C.

What is a hemoglobin A1C?

Often abbreviated HgA1C, this is a lab test that serves as a report card. Your HgA1C shows how your blood sugars have been over the past 3 months. This test can only be done every 3 months because that’s the average lifespan of your red blood cell! Sometimes in the hospital we will use your A1C to better see how your blood sugar has been. Illness, stress, diet changes, and other factors can make your blood sugar change, so using your A1C gives your healthcare providers a fuller picture!

What’s normal for me?

Your doctor and dietitian can look at trends for your A1C and develop a custom goal for you, but in general an A1C of 6 – 7.5% means your blood sugar is well-controlled. The test maxes out at >16%, in this case a higher score means worse control! For older adults, you may have more wiggle room with your A1C.

Support a healthy A1C with diet

Diet plays a huge role in blood sugar control. If you’ve never seen a Registered Dietitian, I suggest asking your doctor for a referral. Did you know only a handful of medical schools make doctors take nutrition courses? And when they do, they’re usually only 1-2 classes? Your dietitian can give you specific goals and even a meal plan to help control your blood sugar.

You need “good” carbs

A common myth we hear from people with diabetes is to avoid carbs. If I had a neon sign, this is where I’d put it! Carbs give our brain, muscles, and cells energy. You need carbs! The key is to look at your sources of carbs, and to keep the amount consistent throughout the day.

That’s right, eat carbs! 

Aim for 4-6 servings of carbs (60-76 grams of carbs) at each meal. 

The carbs I want you to focus on come from whole grains (breads, pasta, rice, quinoa), starchy vegetables (sweet potato, potatoes, corn, peas, beans), low-fat or 1% milk, and fresh fruits. Save fried, breaded foods and snacks like cookies and chips for treats. All of the foods listed will affect your blood sugar, but the serving size is key. Here are examples of one-serving portions of some carbohydrate-containing foods to include in meals and snacks.

So, if one serving of carb is 15 grams of carbohydrate, aim for 4 items per meal from this list per meal. This surprises people, it can seem like a lot of carbs. But a diet full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and good quality fats will help control your blood sugar and bring your A1C down.

RELATED: Eating More Fiber for Heart Health

Think of it as a 3-month challenge, see how many points you can drop your A1C before your next lab draw!

Adding exercise for blood sugar control

Adding exercise helps decrease your blood sugar. If you are on insulin, ask your doctor how to regulate your sugar before exercise. Exercise and muscle movement shuttles sugar into your tissues and muscles for energy, lowering the amount in your blood!

Start slow, but just go!

If you are sedentary, try adding small amounts of exercise each day. No gym, no problem! Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from the supermarket, or try using a standing desk at work. Once you are comfortable with these changes, try going on a 20-30 minute walk each day. Pairing a consistent carb diet with exercise can help control your diabetes and lower your A1C!

Types of Good Starches

Cereals, grains, pasta, breads, crackers, and snacks; starchy vegetables; and cooked beans, peas, and lentils are starches. A serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams.

Grains & Starches

Bread, 1 slice
Oatmeal, ½-¾ cup
Barley or Bulgur, ½-⅓ cup
Bagel, ⅓ large bagel or 1 oz
Saltines, 4-6 crackers
6 in Naan bread, ¼ piece
Corn, ½ cup
Soup, 1 cup
Bun, hamburger/hot dog, ½ bun or 1 oz
English muffin, half
Cooked pasta, ½ cup
Cooked rice, ⅓ cup
Mashed sweet potato, ⅓ cup

Milk & Dairy

Plain yogurt, ¾ cup
Milk, 1 cup
Powdered milk, 4 Tbsp
Soy milk beverage, ½ cup



Apple or orange, 1 medium fruit
Raspberries, 2 cups
Banana, 1 small fruit or 4 oz
Plums, 2 small fruits
Melon, 1 cup
Peach, 1 large fruit
Dried fruit, ¼ cup
Blueberries, ¾ cup
Canned fruit, ½ cup
Cherries, 12-15

Snack Foods

Animal crackers, 8 crackers
Popped popcorn, 3 cups
Pretzels, ¾ oz
Rice cakes (2 cakes)
Snack chips (15–20 chips)
Vanilla wafers (5 wafers)
Muffin, ¼ of 4-oz muffin

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