The public is constantly being told to cut sugar out of diets and to make healthier lifestyle choices, but new research has found sugar can actually improve memory in older adults.
A study, conducted by the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and published in the American Psychological Association Journal, found increasing blood sugar levels has the ability to improve memory and performance in people aged over 60 and to make them feel happier when completing a task.
Researchers gave young participants (aged between 18 and 17) and older participants (aged between 65 and 82) a drink containing small amounts of glucose. Other participants were given a placebo drink that contained artificial sweetener. Each participant was then asked to perform a series of memory tests.
Each participant’s level of engagement, memory, score, mood and own perception of effort was then recorded. Researchers discovered the glucose drink increased energy for both the young and older groups, however, it significantly improved the memory and mood of over-60s.
Researchers also found that although these participants were putting more effort into the tasks than those drinking the artificial sweeteners, they didn’t actually feel that they were trying harder. As such, researchers believe raised blood sugar levels could be an important factor in motivation for over-60s to perform tasks at the highest ability.
So how much sugar is the right amount?
“The literature suggests that 25 grams of glucose is enough to observe cognitive facilitation in older adults,” lead author Konstantinos Mantantzis told Starts at 60.
The effects of glucose are temporary and usually don’t last for more than an hour. As such, it’s not recommended that anyone increases their sugar intake as a result of the study.
“Of course, we do not suggest that either young or older adults should consume sugary drinks,” Mantantzis added. “What our study shows is that energy seems to affect older adults’ cognitive performance, affect and their ability to actively engage in tasks.”
Researchers also didn’t look into whether consuming chocolate or lollies had the same impact as consuming the glucose drink, noting it is not yet known how the combination of carbohydrates with other macronutrients impact a Baby Boomer’s engagement and cognition.
“We do not suggest that older adults should consume additional sugar to achieve that,” Mantantzis said.
At present, the ABS recommends people consume no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s also important to balance your diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you’re concerned your diet could be impacting your memory or cognitive ability, discuss your options with your GP or health professional.