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Why Seniors Should Lower Carb and Sugar Intake

By Sarah StevensonDecember 11, 2012
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A recent Mayo Clinic study links higher carbohydrate and sugar intake in older adults to an increased risk for mild cognitive impairment.

Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, refers to memory or other thinking problems that are more severe than those associated with normal aging. Though seniors with MCI can still lead relatively independent, normal lives, seniors with mild cognitive impairment are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without MCI. Researchers are still trying to work out the exact link between MCI and Alzheimer’s, but they’ve made some strides in figuring out one of the factors that may lead to cognitive problems: diet.

The Link Between Nutrition and MCI

According to a news release from the Mayo Clinic, in a study of 940 seniors aged 70 and older, those with a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein were nearly four times as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. High sugar intake was also associated with a greater risk of MCI. Those who ate more fat and protein relative to carbohydrates had a much lower risk of impairment. Lead author of the study, Mayo Clinic epidemiologist Rosebud Roberts, says this underscores the need for seniors to eat a well-rounded diet; protein, fat and carbohydrates all serve an important role in the body.

“A high carbohydrate intake could be bad for you because carbohydrates impact your glucose and insulin metabolism,” Dr. Roberts said in the news release. “Sugar fuels the brain—so moderate intake is good. However, high levels of sugar may actually prevent the brain from using the sugar—similar to what we see with type 2 diabetes.”

Regular Forgetfulness or Mild Cognitive Impairment?

If you’re not sure whether you should be worried about mild cognitive impairment in your loved ones, the National Institute on Aging suggests that any unusual changes in memory or mental ability get checked out by a doctor. While some memory problems are attributable to regular aging, emotional factors, or other types of health issues, more serious and persistent forgetfulness may be a sign of MCI or dementia.

Doctors will evaluate a senior’s physical and mental health, review their medical history, and consult with family members and/or caregivers in order to determine whether further tests are needed.

As the links between a balanced diet and good health in older age become more clear-cut, do you find yourself trying to make sure your loved ones eat better, or is it an uphill climb to get your family to change their food habits? Share your healthy eating tips with us in the comments!

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Sarah Stevenson