Nurturing Life's Ageless Spirit.

Sugar 101: A Little Goes a Long Way

Ever wonder why Grandma or Grandpa—especially if they’re over the age of 70—seem to crave sweets? Turns out, as we age, we actually lose taste buds. When we’re younger, we have 10-15,000 taste buds; when we’re over 70, this drops to between 3-5,000. What’s more, hundreds of medications can affect the senses of taste and smell. Food that was once enticing is now bland.

But why, though, does sweet win out over salty, sour, or bitter? For many people, it’s the flavor they’ve enjoyed the longest throughout their lives, and tastes just as good as they remember.

And while there’s no denying that a good piece of chocolate is a good piece of chocolate whether you’re 5 or 85, additional research suggests that too much sugar can really do a number on our waistlines and our brains. Proof of this is those irritating memory lapses when we forget where we put our keys or go into a room and forget why we’re there in the first place. Some people chalk up this cognitive slide as a normal part of aging, but research shows there’s a direct link between forgetfulness and elevated blood sugar levels in the brain. Scientists found that the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory can actually shrink from too much sugar consumption. According to a study in Scientific American, scientists believe these mental hiccups “stem from disruptions in the hippocampus—an area that, among other roles, acts as the brain’s “save” button, allowing us to retain new information.” 

Researchers also found a link between regular exercise and an increased ability to break down glucose metabolism in the brain. A group at the University of Edinburgh followed more than 600 people, starting at age 70, who kept detailed notes about their physical activity, mental health, and social habits. Three years later, images of their brains were studied for brain shrinkage and white matter damage (how your brain is wired). The seniors who engaged in the most physical exercise—both aerobic and resistance training—showed the least amount of brain shrinkage

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever have sugar. As the Greeks said, “Pan Metron Ariston,” or “Moderation in all things.” What you can do, though, is replace some of your unhealthy snacks with healthy options. For example, this Valentine’s Day, instead of indulging in milk chocolate, have a piece of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate can create a sense of feeling full, decrease stress, suppress coughing, even boost memory. According to an article in Men’s Health, “flavanol-rich cocoa may significantly increase blood flow to your brain tissue, particularly your hippocampus, playing a critical role in preserving your memory as you age.”

Now that’s news worth remembering.

For more information about Catholic Eldercare, providing a continuum of affordable housing and care—assisted living, independent living, skilled nursing, memory care, transitional care, adult day services, and pastoral care—in Northeast Minneapolis, call 612-379-1370.