There are two different types of sugar – naturally occurring sugar, found in fruits and vegetables, and added sugar, which comes in many forms including granulated sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and fructose. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons for men. However, the average American greatly exceeds this maximum recommendation. Euromonitor, an international research company, revealed that Americans consume 126 grams (31.5 teaspoons) of sugar per day, which equals 101 pounds of granulated sugar annually!
Regularly consuming excessive amounts of added sugar negatively impacts the body’s ability to function properly, leading to poor health. This is especially true for senior citizens who have eaten diets filled with added sugars from a young age. Many seniors experience the negative effects of diets filled with excessive amounts sugar, as they find themselves struggling with diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Due to the fact that many seniors rely on pre-portioned, convenience foods, it is important to research home-delivered meal providers to ensure the meals meet all DRI requirements, including the recommended sugar requirements.
Effects on the Body
Added sugar has no nutritional value. It offers nothing but high-caloric, empty calories. Every teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar consumed equals 16 calories. Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor in the University of California and a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism, says that the body can safely metabolize six teaspoons of added sugar per day. However, most Americans are consuming an average of 31.5 teaspoons (126 grams) of sugar per day. Excess sugar turns into body fat, and has been linked to many of the chronic, metabolic diseases people are struggling with. These diseases include, but are not limited to, obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dementia.
Obesity: The body stores excess sugar as body fat. This leads to weight gain, and can lead to obesity if excess sugar consumption becomes a repeated habit.
Cancer: The body uses glucose, a form of sugar, to generate energy. However, when too much sugar is ingested into the system, it can be dangerous. Cancerous cells feed on the excess sugar, which can cause tumors to grow.
Diabetes: After eating, the body converts food into glucose while the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps glucose to get into the cells of the body where it can be used to make energy. With diabetes, the body may not make enough insulin, use the insulin in the right way, or both, causing blood sugar levels to be too high.
Heart disease: Consuming large amounts of sugar puts added stress on the heart, decreasing the muscle’s function and leading to heart failure and/or heart disease.
Dementia: Excessive sugar consumption also affects the brain. The brain responds to sugar in the same way it responds to other drugs, including cocaine and alcohol. Brain functions such as thinking, memory and learning are closely linked to glucose levels and how efficiently the brain uses this energy source.
Steps to Take to Prevent Excessive Sugar Consumption
It is important to be able to understand the different ways sugar is added into food and beverages. Healthcare providers, Area Agency on Aging (AAA) networks and Case Managers are great resources when looking for home-delivered meals, as their primary goal is to provide nutritious, well-balanced meals to seniors. There are a couple steps to take to ensure regulated, added sugar consumption.
First, look for meal providers that offer low sugar products. For example, GA Foods’ meals are low in sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol. Partnering with companies that share the same values will make it easier to achieve the end goal, which is providing nutritious, well-balanced meals to seniors.
Second, check the Nutrition Facts label for added sugars. On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced updates to the Nutrition Facts label of packaged foods. One of these updates was listing “added sugars” in grams and as a percent Daily Value. Package updates are not required until 2018; therefore, the added sugar information may not be on all labels. However, companies should be able to provide the breakdown of naturally occurring sugar versus added sugar in their meals if the information is requested.
When it comes to senior nutrition, regulating excess sugar is crucial. Simple ways to guarantee healthier food choices are partnering with home-delivered meal providers who offer meals low in sugar and understanding the Nutrition Facts label.
To learn more about the impact that sugar has on the body, download our fact sheet.