Seniors are often warned about the health risks caused by a high-fat diet. However, some of the latest research indicates that high sugar consumption can be equally as bad for cardiovascular health and have significant effects on overall mood and cognitive function.
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When seniors consume too much sugar, it increases their risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity. All of these conditions are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Many sweet snacks and deserts are also loaded with fat, which can double the health risk. The current American Heart Association guidelines for sugar consumption are no more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men, but most Americans eat 22 or more teaspoons of sugar a day.
Seniors and their caregivers should know that saturated fat is still bad for the cardiovascular system. Most animal fats are saturated. The fats of plants and fish are generally unsaturated. Saturated fats tend to have higher melting points, leading to the popular understanding that saturated fats tend to be
solids at room temperatures, while unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature with varying degrees of viscosity. Some healthy fats are
necessary for optimal functioning, saturated fats increase the levels of bad cholesterol that raise the risk of heart disease. We all should limit our consumption of red meat, dairy products, baked goods, and fried foods. This is especially true for older adults if they have other risk factors for heart problems.
Numerous studies have shown the negative effects a sweet tooth can have on mood, learning and quality of life. In addition to weight gain, sugar and other sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses and maple syrup, may contribute to a number of mental health problems including:
Depression - The roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders. Research has linked heavy
sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression.
Anxiety - The American Diet is full of sugar and fat, and while this does not necessarily cause anxiety, it does appear to worsen anxiety symptoms and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress. Sugar can cause blurred vision, difficulty thinking, and fatigue, all of which may be interpreted as signs of a panic attack.
Learning and Memory - Sugar can also compromise cognitive abilities such as learning and memory. In a study by the University of California Los Angeles, 6 weeks of taking a fructose solution (similar to soda) caused the rats to forget their way out of a maze. Rats that ate a nutritious diet and those that consumed a high-fructose diet that also included omega-3 fatty acids found their way out faster. The high sugar diet caused insulin resistance, which in turn damaged communications between brain cells that fuel learning and memory formation.
No one enjoys feeling deprived, and at time enjoying a small slice of cake or a portion of steak can make life more enjoyable. But staying within the recommended guidelines for fat and sugar consumption allows seniors to enjoy flavorful meals without overindulging. Exercising for 30 minutes five
days a week can also help minimize the negative effects of eating fat and sugar on the heart.