No Way to Sugercoat It... Dementia Leads to a Sweet Tooth

23 Aug No Way to Sugercoat It... Dementia Leads to a Sweet Tooth


The changes in the brain during the progression of Dementia can lead to intense cravings for sugary foods. Read more to find out why your loved one with Dementia may be craving sugar-laden foods and how to help them reduce their sugar intake while still enjoying their snacks and meals.

How Does Dementia Cause Sugar Cravings?

Intense cravings for sweet and sugary foods can be a symptom, a tangible clue, to the changes happening in the brain during the progression of dementia.

  • As dementia progresses, some people have diminishing taste and do not experience the full pleasure of tasting food as they once did. However, the “sweet” taste buds remain the strongest over time, leading to a heightened desire to eat sweets. 
  • Brain areas affected in Alzheimer's disease have been shown to express insulin receptors, and insulin levels as well as insulin receptor signaling are thought to be reduced in Alzheimer's.  In Alzheimer’s, a drop in brain insulin or a lack of insulin cell sensitivity can lead to intense cravings for high-calorie foods. 
  • Studies  show that dementia attacks the area of the brain - prefrontal cortex - responsible for self-restraint in food choices. This may lead to the instant gratification of choosing sweet and sugary foods. 

Could Alzheimer's Disease Become Type 3 Diabetes?  

The drop of insulin in the brain not only increases sweet cravings, but can also lead to the death of brain cells, especially in the parts of the brain responsible for memory. Thus, researchers have dubbed Alzheimer’s as a third type of diabetes that selectively involves insulin receptors in the brain.  Promising new findings from recent clinical research trials have shown a stabilization of cognitive impairment in subjects with early Alzheimer’s following treatment with insulin inhaled through the nose.

How Much Sugar is Too Much? 

Even if you don't think you have a sweet tooth, odds are we all are eating sugars hidden in everyday packaged foods, not just from the usual suspects like candy, soda and cookies.  According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the average American eats about 66 pounds of added sugars every year. One teaspoon of table sugar in your coffee is not the problem as it only has 16 calories and contains 4 grams of carbohydrate.  The problem is the hidden sugars in packaged and pre-made foods. Even foods we think are healthful such as granola bars, pasta sauce and fruited yogurt, have added sugars leading to the average person consuming 300 extra sugar calories daily. Bottom line - Beware of processed foods with large ingredient lists including items not directly from mother earth.

The American Heart Association Suggests:

Women have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily =100 calories or 25 grams

Men have no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily = 150 calories or 36 grams

According to Lisa Bunce, MS, RDN, a Fairfield County-based Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist,” Most people are aware that eating too much sugar has negative health consequences and they should be cutting back. However, many of my clients did not understand that the greatest amount of added sugar in their diets was from packaged so-called “healthy” foods… not just sugar in their morning coffee.”

Lisa's 5 Tips for Managing Sweet Cravings

Just as we teach our children to eat healthfully while enjoying sweets in moderation, we want our aging loved ones to do the same. Realize that letting seniors indulge in sweets in moderation provides pleasure, as well as a reason to gather socially to share a treat.

  1. Pack in protein. Since carbohydrates are quickly digested, they provide a fast burst of energy that feels good, but the feeling does not last very long. Hence, why you crave more sugar so soon. Protein digests more slowly and leaves you feeling fuller longer. Even if they cannot chew meat or poultry well, try adding eggs, yogurt, pudding, or protein powder to recipes.
  2. Think Finger Foods. Cut protein foods into small pieces to make eating easier if your loved one can no longer use utensils. Grilled or breaded chicken and fish cut into “strips” may be more enjoyable than trying to cut into a breast of roasted chicken. 
  3. Hide the Vegetables. Puree cooked or raw vegetables and add them to recipes.  Cooked and pureed cauliflower added to a tomato sauce or raw pureed vegetables like spinach and kale taste sweet when added to fruit-based smoothies. Try some of these delicious recipes by cookbook author Missy Chase Lapine, who is best known for her clever children’s recipes in the Sneaky Chef series of books, including her New York Times bestseller, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals
  4. Avoid Alcohol Before a Meal which can decrease dietary self-restraint. Or serve the alcoholic beverage or glass of wine at the end of the meal after they have already eaten protein and vegetables. Many wines and drinks have more than 2 teaspoons of natural sugars per serving including a glass of a sweet white wine or a bottle of beer.
  5. Switch To Whole Fruit, Not Juices and Syrups. Most of your sweet cravings will disappear in a short time when you switch to sweets in natural sources from whole fruit. It may take a day or two, but soon you will realize the intense burst of sweet in a fresh strawberry tastes just as sweet as the strawberry breakfast bar you had a few days before. Beware that Sweeteners in the form of Honey, Molasses, Natural Sugar-in-the-Raw and Maple Syrup act like added sugars, quickly digestible and raising blood sugar quickly.  For example, Agave nectar is NOT truly a “nectar,” but  a refined, processed syrup that your body will use like corn syrup or table sugar.


To learn more about nutrition and dietary modifications for seniors, call our STEPS Nursing Geriatric Care Manager at (914) 618-4200 or link here: