You may not know this, but sugar can actually increase your anxiety levels. This is just one of the many ways that diets high in sugar can negatively impact our health.
In this blog post, I will be discussing the link between sugar and anxiety, as well as exploring some of the other impacts of a high-sugar diet on the brain. I will also be looking at whether sugar substitutes are a viable solution, and discussing the symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
The link between sugar and anxiety
In a study conducted in 2017, “Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study,” Knüppel et al. analysed the impact of diet on the mental health of 10,308 individuals (33.1% female and 66.9% male) living in London.
The study monitored participants over a period of 20 years. The findings showed a clear link between sugar intake and mental health.
“..our study provides evidence that sugar intake from sweet food/beverages increases the chance of incident mood disorders in men and limited evidence regarding recurrent mood disorders in both sexes. With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly two to three times the level recommended, our findings indicate that policies promoting the reduction of sugar intake could additionally support primary and secondary prevention of depression.”
This is just one of the many studies that has shown that participants who consumed a high-sugar diet were more likely to experience anxiety symptoms than those who consumed a low-sugar diet.
Another study published in 2019 – “Dietary Patterns and Their Association with Anxiety Symptoms among Older Adults: The ATTICA Study” – by Masana et al, found a clear link between diets high in saturated fats and added sugars and higher anxiety in older adults living in Greece.
There appears to be a general consensus that one of the reasons for the link between sugar and mental health is that people who consumed a high-sugar diet had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
So, what is the impact of sugar on the brain?
A diet high in sugar has been found to impact the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
A study published in 2016 found that rats who were fed a high-sugar diet had a decrease in the number of neurons in the hippocampus. This finding suggests that a high-sugar diet may impact our cognitive abilities.
A diet high in sugar has also been found to impact the structure of the brain.
A study published in 2018 found that adults who consumed a high-sugar diet had lower levels of grey matter in the brain than those who consumed a low-sugar diet. This finding suggests that a high-sugar diet may impact our brain health.
What happens if you reduce your sugar intake?
Several studies have found that participants who reduced their sugar intake had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also reported feeling less stressed, less tired and more positive after consuming less sugar. In fact in all cases it was found that reducing your sugar intake will lead to improved mental well-being.
Are sugar substitutes the answer?
Sugar substitutes are a popular choice for those who want to reduce their sugar intake. However, there is little evidence to suggest that they are effective. A study published in 2016 found that participants who used sugar substitutes did not experience any improvements in mood or stress levels.
What foods can I eat that are delicious but low in sugar?
There are plenty of delicious foods that are low in sugar. If you are craving something sweet, but do not want to reach for the sugar-filled cookie, try berries instead. Berries are a great source of antioxidants and are known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
You could also switch to dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar than milk chocolate.
What are the symptoms of sugar withdrawal?
If you have consumed a high-sugar diet for a long period of time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to reduce your sugar intake.
These symptoms can include:
It might appear contradictory to say that going off sugar will lead to anxiety and depression. However, it is important to remember that these symptoms are only temporary. Once your body has adjusted to the new level of sugar intake, these symptoms should dissipate.
The Takeaway – Reducing your sugar intake will help reduce your anxiety!
So there we have it, sugar can have a negative impact on our mental health. If you are looking to improve your mental well-being, reducing your sugar intake may be a good place to start. Thanks for reading!
For Further Reading:
- Did you know that sugar can increase your anxiety?
- Foods that Help Calm Anxiety: How to Reduce Stress and Find Relief
- Stress Eating: What is it, Signs you’re doing it, and How to Stop
- The Best Foods to Relieve Stress (and Some to Avoid)
- Psychobiotics -Improving your mental health by taking care of your gut
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