Life is sweet. Too sweet, sometimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Americans are consuming too many added sugars, and the result is health problems such as weight gain, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Too much sugar is never good for your health, but it can be particularly detrimental in your senior years. Our nutrition needs, and our ability to absorb nutrients, change as we age. That can be due to natural changes in our body, but also as the result of chronic diseases and conditions, and medications.
In general, seniors need fewer calories as their metabolism changes and their activity level changes. USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that older adults reduce their consumption of added sugars as a way of helping achieve a healthy dietary pattern.
These guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10 percent of total energy. Energy is another word for calories. Yet, a majority of adults aged 60 and older (54 percent of males and 58 percent of females) exceed that limit.
Sugar isn’t just in sweets and treats. According to the USDA, beverages contribute to more than 40 percent of the daily intake of added sugars for adults. This includes not just soda and fruit drinks, but also sweetened coffees and teas. Foods like cereal, canned soup, flavored yogurt, pasta sauces and salad dressings can also be surprisingly high in sugar.
Health benefits of limiting sugar
It’s not always easy to make good food decisions, and cutting down on sugar can take effort. But consider the health benefits.
There is strong evidence showing that higher consumption of added sugar increases the risk of type 2 diabetes for adults. For people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can’t keep up with blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance. High blood sugar can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
The CDC also encourages managing blood sugar to reduce your risk for cognitive decline. That’s especially true for those with diabetes. The Lancet Commission found that addressing risk factors for cognitive decline may prevent or delay up to 40 percent of dementia cases. If you’re concerned about your blood sugar or your risk of diabetes, you can ask your doctor to run tests to identify whether you are pre-diabetic or diabetic.
There is also evidence that blood pressure is associated with sugar consumption in women between the age of 65 and 80. For this group in particular, cutting down on sugar can be part of the solution to lowering blood pressure.
Consuming added sugars can also put you at a higher risk for cavities and poor dental health. According to the World Health Organization, there is strong evidence of a causal relationship between sugar consumption and cavities.
The USDA provides a lengthy list of health benefits for older adults from healthy eating – including limiting added sugars:
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk of obesity
- Improved weight management
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of certain cancers (breast, colon, and rectum)
- Improved bone health and lower risk of hip fracture
Cutting down on sugar can also make you feel better. Indulging in too much sugar can lead to a sugar crash, where your body rapidly releases insulin to try to regulate your blood sugar. This happens when there is an influx of carbohydrates, including simple sugars like those found in sweet treats. And it can happen to anyone, not just those with diabetes. The result is a sudden drop in energy levels that can be uncomfortable and make you tired, shaky and dizzy. A sugar crash can also make you feel irritable and fatigued and make it difficult to concentrate.
How sugar alternatives can help you stay healthy
There are different strategies you can use to cut down on your sugar consumption. Limiting portions can help, as can choosing lower-sugar foods by paying more attention to nutrition facts labels. You can also replace sugar with sugar alternatives.
1. Cutting down on sugar consumption with artificial sweeteners
Sugar alternatives, or substitutes, can help replace sugar in your diet by adding sweetness and flavor to foods and beverages.
There are six artificial sweeteners, also known as “high-intensity sweeteners,” approved by the FDA as food additives in the United States. These are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, neotame, and advantame. You will often find these in products marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet.” There are also plant and fruit-based high-intensity sweeteners that may appear in nutritional food labels, such as Stevia or stevia rebaudiana; luo han guo or siraitia grosvenorii; and Talin or thaumatin.
Artificial sweeteners are low-calorie or no-calorie, so they can help aid in weight management. They also aren’t carbohydrates, so they won’t have the same impact on your blood sugar, which is particularly important if you have diabetes. And they cannot cause cavities because they don’t interact with bacteria in your mouth in the same way as sugar.
2. Sugar alcohols
In addition to artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols can also be used as a substitute to help you replace sugar in your diet. Don’t worry, they don’t contain the same type of alcohol as alcoholic beverages. Sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. But like artificial sweeteners, they are created synthetically, which means chemical substances are involved in their making.
Examples of sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, and maltitol. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugar, which can help with weight management. Sugar alcohols also don’t cause cavities or put you at risk for sugar crashes. However, consuming too many sugar alcohols can upset your stomach.
3. Natural sugar alternatives
If you would prefer more natural ingredients that you can pronounce easier than words like xylitol and erythritol, you’re not alone. There are also natural substitutes for sugar if you want to avoid synthetic sweeteners, even synthetic sweeteners that are derived from natural substances. These alternatives include fruit juices and nectars, maple syrup, molasses and honey.
If you replace sugar with a natural sugar substitute, keep in mind these can still raise your blood sugar levels. They can also contribute to other health problems such as cavities and weight gain, particularly if consumed in excess.
Senior living facilities provide nutritional support
It can be hard to manage your nutrition needs at any age, but particularly in your senior years. It takes a lot of time and energy to cook and clean up the kitchen after preparing a meal. It can be easy to slip into bad patterns of replacing nutritious meals with snacks that are quick and easy.
If you feel like you could use help maintaining healthy eating habits and cutting down on sugar, maybe it’s time to consider senior living. You can find a Sonida Senior Living community near you to learn about available accommodations. Or contact us today to schedule a tour!
Common Causes of Balance Issues in Older Adults
As we age, balance can become more difficult, making it harder to get around and increasing the risk for falls. Here’s how seniors can improve their balance.
Learn more about a community near you
Find a community
If you’re a senior or caregiver looking for independent living, assisted living or memory care services for you or your loved one, contact us to schedule a tour or request information about a community near you.