Did you know that recent studies show a correlation between sugar intake and the risk of falling among older men and women? Granted, there’s nothing quite as sweet as adding a little sugar to your tea, or a cold coke on a hot day, but is it good for you?

The thing is sugar, while sometimes essential, can negatively affect the body. And when consumed in excess, whether knowingly or unknowingly, it can lead to a number of serious health issues. Fortunately, reducing the use of sugar or removing excess sugar from your diet could help you lower the risk of serious illnesses and help you feel better overall.

Sugar and frailty in older persons

There was an interesting study published in science direct, examining the association between sugar and frailty in older persons. Results showed that the frailty components increased dependently with added sugars. Specifically with sugars added during food production. Whereas intake of sugars naturally appearing in foods was not associated with frailty.

Prior to this study, there was already evidence that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to the worsening of cardiometabolic risk markers, weight gain and increased the risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases that hinder healthy ageing.

The unhealthy effects of sugar sweetening in food has also been studied, and such studies have shown that the amount of added sugars in ones food is associated with cardiovascular mortality, cholesterol concentrations, and blood pressure. Older people specifically suffer a progressive loss of strength, agility, and mobility over time, which leads to increased disability, associated with greater risk of falls.

Sugar and Dementia? 

Another major concern highlighted is the link between sugar and the onset of dementia. In fact, a well-established study about diet implicates sugar as the major culprit in increasing your risk for developing the disease.

1. Excess Sugar Results in Insulin Resistant Brain Cells
Your cells and organs need energy to function normally. They get this energy from the food you eat, specifically in the starch and sugars you consume. However, too much sugar in the blood is bad.
Too much sugar causes your pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin which controls the sugar levels in your blood.

Insulin enables your body to store any extra sugar inside the muscle cells for later use. If these cells are already full however, they reject these sugars and start self-protecting – transforming into insulin-resistant cells.

Your pancreas confused by this response, and sensing high levels of sugar in your blood, then produces more insulin. Eventually, this excess sugar and insulin travels into the brain, drowning the cells to death.

2. Too Much Sugar Causes Cognitive Declination
Besides killing your brain cells, a sugar build up in the brain can also cause slowed cognitive function and even memory and attention problems for seniors.

Worse still all these natural survival counter measures weaken and damage the blood vessels, resulting in potential mini-strokes and a declining mental capacity.

Good vs bad sugar?

We are not saying no sugar, at all, ever! A certain amount of sugar in the diet is necessary. But, as with many things in life, balance is key. Some sugars are good. Specifically those that are naturally present in fruits, vegetables, and milk. Interestingly, the intake of these sugars has no negative physical or cognitive consequences.

Rather the sugars you need to worry about, are those we add, or those added to the foods we buy, primarily to sweeten them. Foods belonging to the following groups: table sugar, honey, and syrups; special breads; baked goods and cookies; pastries; breakfast cereals; flavored milks; whole yogurt and fermented milk; dairy desserts; sweetened cheeses; cooked and canned fruits and vegetables; jam and jelly; candy; chocolate; soft drinks; and fruits juices and nectars.
All these sugars are classified ‘added sugars’ and their intake shows a statistically significant association with frailty and dementia.

Let’s look at a practical example of the difference: an orange has nine grams of natural sugar balanced with fiber and other nutrients. A teaspoon of white sugar is four grams of isolated, added sugar with nothing else to balance it.
White sugar is a simple sugar, meaning it’s fast-acting and can be used for energy quickly. Eating sugar on its own can lead to spikes in your blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash when the body releases insulin to balance it out. In a worst-case scenario, overuse of simple sugars can lead to type II diabetes.

Fortunately, reducing the use of sugar or removing added sugar from your diet could help you lower the risk of serious illnesses and help you feel better overall.

So what defines a good or bad sugar?

As discussed, natural sugar occurs naturally in the foods we eat every day. For example, lactose in milk is a natural sugar. These natural sugars in fruits and other foods are delivered in combination with a protein and/or fibre, which means they are less likely to cause a blood sugar spike and more likely to trigger that comforting sense of satisfaction and fullness.

Added sugars operate differently. They sweeten food. That’s it! And because they are rarely paired with the vitamins and nutrients their intake is not balanced.

Let’s take a sugary drink for example. The American Health Association suggests that men should eat no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day (36 grams), while women should opt for six teaspoons or less (24 grams). A sugary drinks (whether the diet version or normal) contains an average of 39 grams of added sugar?  That’s more added sugar than anyone should have in a day, let alone in a single drink.

Why Do Seniors Crave Sweets?

‘Sugar cravings’ tend to develop or increase as you age. It’s not like you simply developed a ‘sweet tooth’, it’s more a case of craving a quick fix because you are not eating often enough or are not getting enough carbohydrates in your diet.
When your body ‘craves’ for something sweet, more often than not, it’s because of your body’s decreasing energy reservoir.

When this happens, the best thing to do is eat a healthy and filling meal, specifically foods rich in proteins and healthy fats. Being aware of the source of the craving, should affect, facilitate and enable an informed response. So, instead of choosing a sweet, you now choose a grain, protein, or good fat alternative. Protein-filled foods like lean meat, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds do an excellent job of satisfying one’s hunger healthily.

Tips to cut the craving

The American Heart Association suggests some great tips for cutting down on added sugar in your diet. Here are several ideas to keep in mind that you can implement in your own life starting today.

  1. Stay away from processed foods as much as you can. They are the biggest culprits, spiking sugar levels, but offering no nutritional value at all.
  2. Stop drinking soda. If you can opt for water, plain tea or a mixer, both are better than drinking a sugar-laden pop.
  3. Compare food labels. Before you buy anything, consider checking the food label. Added sugar is always identified on the label on a per-serving or per-container basis.
  4. Eat smaller servings. If you can’t manage cold turkey, try eating less. So half a brownie or cookie instead of the whole.
  5. Eat more fruits in place of sweet treats like cake or candy. This can be fresh, frozen, or canned berries, mangoes, pineapples, cherries, apples, and pears. These fruits contain healthy sugar that can curb your sweet tooth and supply you with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
  6. Enjoy Healthy Snacks There are many options for sweet treats that are healthy and that seniors can enjoy. Here are a few ideas:
  • Dried fruit
  • Unsweetened granola with fresh fruit
  • Fruit and cottage cheese
  • Rice cakes drizzled with honey
  • Dried apples with cinnamon yogurt dip
  • Veggies with nut butter
  • Berries with yogurt
  • Honey roasted veggies
  • Sweet potato fries

Taking these steps will help you feel better and keep the amount of added sugar in your diet under control. Over time, better control could mean a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and other serious illnesses.

Disclaimer: Please note this article if for informative purposes only. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Source: Referenced articles


How Sugar is Linked to Dementia and How to Curb Your Sweet Cravings

How to Help Seniors Reduce their Sugar Intake