Food is something that I have a love affair with. When I made the decision to develop a better relationship with it and understand about how truly impacts my body, I never knew just how far it would go. What I thought would be a simple three-month, self-guided learning project turned into a three-year, hands-on study. I delved into everything from soil science, to animal butchery to the physiological effects of nutrients on all the body’s systems.

In the end, I also learned to debunk most of my misconception on food, farming and our food system. I also learned to never follow a diet again and to deeply research any trendy claim people were clamoring about. As part of my upcoming book, Love Food, Love Yourself (which will be available on Grace, Grit and Wit in June), I took a deeper look into the effects of sugar, alcohol and caffeine on women’s bodies after 40 since it’s such a large part of the conversation surrounding autoimmune conditions. What I learned was that as we age, the negative aspects of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine become increasingly harmful to our bodies. So let’s take a look at each of these.

It May Be Time to Ghost Added Sugar

In women over 40, sugar is the #1 culprit related to weight gain, increased blood pressure, risk of diabetes, and heart disease. When it comes to your brain, sugar is as addictive as nicotine and can impair a range of neurological functions, and can even cause some short-term memory loss. In fact, no matter how old you are, sugar is the #1 culprit you need to monitor in your diet. Which leaves a woman to wonder:  Just how much sugar can I have, and how do I accurately monitor its intake?

 “Just how much sugar can I have and how do I accurately monitor my sugar intake?”

If you’ve seen the movie Fed Up, you know that reigning in your sugar can be a battle. There’s neither an official federal recommendation on what your daily intake should be, nor is there an established upper limit for sugars that are added to the foods we buy and consume.  So, if we want to manage our  intake properly, we first have to separate sugar into two camps;  intrinsic and extrinsic: 

  • Intrinsic sugars are naturally occurring. These are sugars that are an integral part of whole fruit, vegetables, and dairy products.
  • Extrinsic sugars are those that are not naturally occurring in our foods, and are  added either during processing or preparation. Yes, this includes  sugars and syrups added at the table

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), women shouldn’t overly worry about intrinsic sugars found in whole foods they consume. On average, we actually consume about 38.3 grams of intrinsic sugars per day, though the number varies depending on the foods that we eat. Women should be mindful of the extrinsic sugars they consume and should aim to eat less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about six teaspoons).  

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) also recommends that no more than 10% of  a woman’s calories should come from added sugar or from natural sugars in honey, syrups, and fruit juice. We should really aim for less than 5%. If we overlay the nutritional guidelines at the beginning of the book to our daily calorie intake to calories gained from added sugar, we see that recommendations of  the WHO and AHA are extremely accurate. 

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Discretionary Calories Allowance and Examples of How These Calories May Be Divided Between Solid Fats and Added Sugars on the Basis of the US Department of Agriculture Food Guide

So the good news is that you shouldn’t worry too much about the sugars that naturally occur in your food. When it comes to added sugar, you need to be very careful as so much sugar is being added to all of the things available to you in packages. If you decide to quit sugar in order to successfully accomplish this, go cold turkey. No chocolate, no wine (which has sugar), and no sweeteners (including maple syrup and honey). Just stop consuming it altogether. In about three weeks you’ll start to notice a difference. 


Are you craving something sweet? 

That means your blood sugar levels are out of balance. You can help your cravings by increasing your chromium, manganese, and magnesium as they help manage blood sugar levels. 


All But {STOP} Drinking

Yes, I know. This is now getting hard. Now that you know what to eat and how to nourish your body, we’re talking about what we have to give up. First it’s added sugar, and now I’m talking about alcohol! 

While there are plenty of credible studies that show that alcohol (like red wine) can have positive impacts on health, most women are taking drinking to an extreme as the pressures of family and work have them looking for outlets to relax. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), found one in eight women binge drink (drinking more than six drinks in one sitting) about three times per month. With women over 40 drinking more alcohol than they have in the past decade, it’s not surprising that our alcohol consumption has to be a part of the conversation when it comes to nutrition and health.  

After 40 your liver and stomach shrink as you get older and it takes longer to process alcohol through your system. Because alcohol stays in your system longer, drinking too much and too often puts a strain on your digestive system and liver. Once alcohol enters your system, its metabolized by several processes or pathways. The most common of these pathways involves two enzymes—alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).  

These enzymes help break apart the alcohol molecule, making it possible to eliminate it from the body. First, ADH metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance and known carcinogen. After that, acetaldehyde is further metabolized down to another, less active byproduct called acetate, which then is broken down into water and carbon dioxide for easy elimination. Although acetaldehyde is short lived, it has the potential to cause significant damage to the liver. 

And as we get older, that amount changes based on genetic factors (race), age, liver size and how much you weigh. Your body can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol every hour; as we get older, that amount of alcohol your body can process decreases due to having a lower water content and a decrease in alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that helps break alcohol down). It’s why you feel dizzy or tipsy more quickly. So if you are drinking as you have in the past or drinking more, your body can’t physically process out the amount of alcohol you’re putting in it because it doesn’t have the ability. 

Alcohol also keeps your liver from releasing glucose which is what regulates your internal blood sugars. Aside from the effects on your liver, alcohol really impacts your blood sugar levels. When you first drink, it increases them (wonder why all of the sudden you want dessert or something sweet?), but once your body starts to process the alcohol, your blood sugar drops dramatically. 

Just like I outlined with consuming too much sugar, drinking too much, too often can lead to weight gain, blood sugar imbalances which make you more hungry, fatigue, sluggish organs, and cell tissue degeneration. In general, it’s best to limit what you drink and also make sure you leave at least three days in between the time you do drink. Alcohol isn’t a necessary staple in your diet, so if you can eliminate it, by all means, do so! You’ll be amazed by how you feel. 


Alcohol Labeling is Completely Voluntary

Did you know that alcohol companies aren’t required to disclose the amount of sugar or carbohydrates a bottle contains


Setting Boundaries with Caffeine

I know, I know. Sugar, alcohol, and now COFFEE! Don’t stop reading now…it gets better. I’m not going to tell you to completely give up coffee. The studies on coffee’s positive and negative effects are too varied to say it’s good or bad for you. When you read across them, they are extremely subjective; it seems that diet, lifestyle, physical activity, and even your own genetics have a significant impact on the way you metabolize caffeine. 

Because of this, I’d say it’s more important to become mindful of the amount of caffeine you consume on a daily basis. The general consensus is that: 

  • 200 mg of caffeine won’t affect your sleep patterns.
  • Up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is a safe limit.

To go along with how much caffeine you’re consuming, you need to also take into consideration when you’re drinking it. As we get older, it’s clear that we metabolize caffeine more slowly, and it takes a longer time to work through our body. Depending on your health, it takes 4 to 9.5 hours for the body to fully process caffeine once it has entered your system. On average, a healthy adult takes 5.7 hours to process it. So drinking coffee after noon may not be such a good idea as it’s likely to have an impact on your sleep. 

How much caffeine do you drink each morning? 

  • One 6-ounce cup of coffee has 100 mg of caffeine
  • One 6-ounce cup of tea has  70 mg of caffeine
  • One 1-ounce espresso shot has 64 mg of caffeine

Unless you have extremely bad reactions to caffeine, you don’t have to give up your coffee. You may want to limit your consumption each day and/or rotate days you drink it. If you “switch to decaf,” make sure your decaf coffee has gone through the swiss water process, otherwise it can still have caffeine. In general, switching to higher quality, organic, and specialty coffees have a positive impact on your ability to handle caffeine. 

Want to learn more about food and nutrition for women over 40? You can purchase the Kindle edition on Amazon or get a print and digital copy on Grace, Grit & Wit.