Are you concerned about developing dementia in your golden years? You’re not alone, especially if Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia runs in your family. However, developing dementia does not have to be your fate. More research indicates that healthy lifestyle, including what you eat and drink, can help reduce your risk.
Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia kills one out of every three seniors. It kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. In addition, approximately 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older were reported to have Alzheimer’s disease in 2022, with rates expected to rise as our overall population ages.
What effect do beverages have on your brain health?
As part of a dementia prevention strategy, paying attention to what you eat and drink, your daily exercise, and avoiding tobacco while maintaining a healthy weight is critical. The beverages you consume significantly impact your overall health, body weight, and brain health. Specific beverages are the diet’s primary sources of unhealthful nutrients, such as added sugars. Sugary beverages account for nearly half of all added sugar in the American diet.
Regular soft drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet, accounting for 25% of daily added sugars, followed by fruit-flavored drinks, which account for 11% of total daily sugar intake. Other major sources of added sugar include sports drinks and sweetened coffee and tea. These beverages contain more sugar than sugary desserts and other sweets, which account for only 3% of the added sugar consumed by the average American.
Here are some beverages to avoid if you want to stay sharp as you age and other healthy tips to support your cognitive health.
Almost half of all adults consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily, including regular soda, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, horchata, and others. This equates to approximately 150 or 37 grams of quickly absorbed sugar calories daily. Therefore, the AHA has established an upper limit for added sugars of 36 grams per 150 calories for men and 25 grams per 100 for women.
Sugar is bad for your gray matter because it has been linked to metabolic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. Foods that raise your risk of cardiovascular disease also raise your risk of dementia because keeping your grey matter healthy for life entails keeping the millions of blood vessels that support your brain free of plaque associated with heart disease.
It was discovered that those who reported drinking the most sugar-sweetened beverages were approximately three times more likely to develop dementia than those who did not drink sugary drinks. In addition, the risk of stroke was also doubled among those who consumed the most sweetened beverages.
Individuals who consume one or more sugary beverages daily are likelier to have poorer memory, a smaller overall brain volume, and a significantly smaller hippocampus, the brain region associated with memory and learning. In addition, sugary drinks have been linked to preclinical Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
As the leading source of added sugar in the average American diet, reducing your intake of regular soda is one way to help keep your mind healthy and sharp as you age. A 12-ounce can of soda contains approximately 150 calories and 37 grams of sugar, which is more than you should consume in a single day.
For many, milkshakes are the ultimate indulgence, but sugar and saturated fat are a double whammy for your brain’s health. Saturated fat, found in full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, butter, and coconut and palm oils, has been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels.
Research shows that high cholesterol increases one’s risk of developing dementia. In addition, three large human population studies found that high saturated fat intake doubled the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, whereas high unsaturated fat intake decreased the risk. For example, a medium chocolate shake from McDonald’s contains 650 calories, 85 grams of added sugar (21 teaspoons), and 11 grams of saturated fat—more than half the total saturated fat you should consume daily.
Specialty Coffee Drinks
Regular coffee and tea with no added sugars can be a great way to up your intake of antioxidants and other plant-based nutrients. Still, many coffee drinkers prefer their beverages sweetened. If you enjoy specialty coffee drinks from your favorite coffee shop, you may consume an unexpected amount of added sugar and unhealthy saturated fat.
Mochas, flavored lattes, frappes, and other popular beverages can contain the same sugar as two 12-oz cans. For example, a Starbucks 16-ounce Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Frappucino contains 420 calories, 64 grams (16 teaspoons) of sugar, and 10 grams of saturated fat. These high-sugar, high-fat, and high-calorie options are equivalent to eating a cake or several chocolate chip cookies. If you want a healthier pick-me-up, ask for sugar-free flavorings and skim milk in your drink.
Unless you’re a competitive athlete, you should limit your daily intake of sports drinks. This is because sports drinks can harm your brain’s health, particularly the grey matter.
One of the reasons these beverages can be so pernicious is that they are marketed as healthier alternatives to soda. While sports drinks play an important role in top athletes’ diets and maintaining hydration during endurance-type events, most weekend warriors can replace sports drinks with water or calorie-free electrolyte replacement tabs.
A typical 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 140 calories and 34 grams (8.5 teaspoons) of sugar. That is the maximum amount of sugar an adult should consume daily. The sugar in sports drinks, like soda, may increase your risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurological issues. An electrolyte tablet or powder with minimal added sugar, such as LMNT, Nuun, DripDrop Ors, or Ultima, is a better option for a sports hydration solution.
Recovery drinks, like sports drinks, are intended for serious athletes. They are made with a 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio and are designed to stimulate the replenishment of fluids, carbohydrates, and protein.
They are unhealthy for your brain health because they are high in calories and made with simple carbohydrates. Endurox R4 Recovery Smoothie, for example, has 280 calories and 39 grams (about ten teaspoons) of added sugar. Therefore, there is little reason to include these beverages in your diet unless you are a serious athlete struggling to maintain weight.
Caffeinated Energy Drinks
Due to their high sugar content, Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster, and other caffeinated energy drinks were originally developed for extreme athletes or to help college students wake up or stay awake. Still, they have no benefits in maintaining your brain health. For example, a 12-ounce can of Red Bull has 168 calories and 37 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar. A 16-oz Rockstar energy drink in its original flavor contains 260 calories and 63 grams (nearly 16 teaspoons) of sugar. Look for sugar-free flavors if you want the caffeine these types of drinks provide.
Learn more: Breakfast Strata Recipe