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Which is Best for Seniors: Sugar, Additives, or No Sweetener?

Sugar Substitute Linked to Stroke and Heart Attack

Recent research underscores the potential dangers of a commonly used sugar substitute, and this is something you’ll want to know about.

A June 2024 Cleveland Clinic study published in the European Heart Journal highlighted the health risks of xylitol. According to this report, higher amounts of this sugar alcohol might elevate the risks of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.

What does that mean for seniors and healthy dietary choices?

As we age, that question becomes increasingly important. Families deeply care about older loved ones’ eating habits, recognizing the profound impact on health, vitality, immunity, and overall well-being.

Civitas Senior Living | Senior eating muffin
Our delectable dietary program at Civitas Senior Living is all about delicious, nutritious foods.

Among the countless decisions seniors face, one is whether to opt for sugar or sweeteners. Our senior living nutrition experts are happy to share the benefits and drawbacks of both. We aim to empower seniors and their caregivers to make informed, healthy dietary decisions.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol used as a low-calorie sweetener in sugar-free products. Manufacturers process it from plant fibers, primarily birch trees and corn cobs. They use a chemical extraction and hydrogenation process that converts xylose into xylitol.

Sugar alcohols, like xylitol, are carbohydrates with a chemical structure that resembles both sugars and alcohols. They provide sweetness with fewer calories and a lower impact on blood sugar levels compared to regular sugars like sucrose. That makes sugar alcohols beneficial for people with diabetes, as they can help manage blood glucose spikes. Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol, erythritol, and mannitol.

The Health Risks of Xylitol

The Cleveland Clinic study concluded that the xylitol substitute for sugar and stroke are connected. The researchers analyzed over 3,000 participants from the U.S. and Europe and determined that high levels of xylitol in the blood were linked to strokes and heart attacks.

The researchers analyzed the blood plasma data from those subjects. They found that high levels of circulating xylitol were associated with an elevated three-year risk of cardiovascular events. Xylitol had led to higher levels of platelet clotting and an increased risk of thrombosis.

More Xylitol Health Risks to Be Aware Of

Beyond the cardiovascular concerns, excessive xylitol consumption can lead to gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. For seniors with sensitive digestive systems, this can aggravate existing problems and compromise overall comfort and well-being.

Overconsumption of xylitol can still contribute to caloric intake, potentially leading to weight gain if not moderated. Therefore, it’s essential to weigh the purported benefits of xylitol against its potential drawbacks and consider alternative sweetener options accordingly.

Xylitol is commonly found in:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free candy and mints
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Baked goods
  • Dietary supplements
  • Some medications
  • Certain peanut butter brands
  • Sugar-free, low-sugar, and low-carb ice cream products
  • Sugar-free and low-sugar jellies and jams

What about sugar and heart health?

For many years, researchers have also scrutinized traditional sugar for its adverse effects on heart health. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. That is a significant concern for seniors striving to maintain healthy lifestyles. The correlation between sugar intake and heart issues underscores the need for moderation and awareness when it comes to sweeteners in the senior diet.

Benefits of Sugar

While sugar and artificial additives have their share of drawbacks, it’s essential to acknowledge their role in the culinary landscape. Sugar, in moderation, can enhance the taste and palatability of various foods and beverages, adding enjoyment to meals for seniors. Additionally, natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients and fiber, contributing to a balanced diet when consumed in appropriate quantities.

Civitas Senior Living | Sugar vs sugar alcohols infographic

Other Artificial Additives

Artificial additives, including synthetic sweeteners and flavor enhancers, have also been associated with health issues. From aspartame to saccharin, these additives have been the subject of numerous studies investigating their impact on human health. Concerns range from neurological effects to metabolic disruptions, prompting caution in their consumption, especially among vulnerable populations like seniors.

Making Informed Choices

Considering the research surrounding sugar and sugar substitutes and heart issues, how can seniors navigate their dietary choices effectively? Education is key. By keeping up with the latest studies and understanding the potential risks and benefits of different sweeteners, seniors can make empowered decisions aligned with their health goals. Health care professionals and nutritionists can also provide personalized guidance tailored to their needs.

Civitas Senior Living communities feature carefully selected meals served in restaurant-style dining rooms. We know that passion makes a difference in cooking and in life, and we choose our menus with our residents in mind. Dietary requirements and preferences take priority, and we use the freshest, finest ingredients in our diverse meal options.

About Civitas Senior Living, LLC

Civitas Senior Living is a Fort Worth-based senior living owner/operator, property management, and consulting company that specializes in the development, acquisition, and operational management of senior housing properties. These properties include assisted living and memory care residences and independent senior living communities.

Civitas is known for its signature Passion Program, which ensures a high-quality, comprehensive continuum of care through a unique integration of all the factors that affect community management.

Learn More About Civitas Senior Living Communities

For more information about Civitas, please visit our home page or our senior care careers page.

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