The Connection Between Sugar and Depression

Food can have many effects on your mood and emotions. When you’re hungry and want food, you can be grumpy, upset, or even angry. When you’ve had a delicious meal, you may feel elated and euphoric.

The food you eat can also have long-term implications for your health. Specifically, eating too much sugar may increase your risk for mood disorders, including depression.

Sugar occurs naturally in complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and grains. It’s also present in simple, refined foods like pasta, cakes, baked goods, bread, soda, and candy. The typical American diet relies heavily on these easily digestible carbs, and includes far too few complex carbs derived from healthier sources.

Eating too many simple sugars may increase your risk for depression, mood disorders, and several chronic health issues. Read on to learn about the link between sugar and depression. Plus, get tips for managing your sweet tooth.

1. Refined carbohydrates linked to depression

Researchers in London discovered that a diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and fish, can lower your risk for depression in middle age. According to their study, people who ate processed foods like sweetened desserts, fried foods, and processed meats were more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people who largely relied on unprocessed, whole foods.

You already know you should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish for heart and brain health and to help ward off chronic diseases. Now, you can pile your plate with plants in order to keep depression at bay.

2. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine

studyTrusted Source done in rats found that the brain’s sweet receptors are not adapted to constant and high levels of sugar. This intense sweetness can stimulate the brain’s reward center and may be more pleasurable than cocaine, even in people with a drug addiction. In other words, the high from sugar is stronger than the high from cocaine. Your self-control mechanisms are no match for sugar’s strength.

Want to break your sugar addiction? Sugar is everywhere, from drinks and sauces to soups and sandwiches. Look for places sugar hides in your daily diet and create strategies to slowly cut back. As you eliminate sugar, your palate will adjust, and you won’t need as much sugar to reach satisfaction.

Did you know? The high from sugar is stronger than the high from cocaine.

3. Sugar linked to inflammation, which is linked to depression

A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables may reduce inflammation in your body’s tissues, whereas a diet that is high in refined carbs may promote inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is linked to several health conditions, including metabolic disordercancer, and asthma. Inflammation may also be linked to depression, according to one study.

Many of the symptoms of inflammation are also common with depression, such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • heightened perceptions of pain

That’s why depression may be an underlying sign of inflammation problems.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect chronic inflammation. They can run tests to see if you have any other health conditions linked to inflammation. They can also offer suggestions to help you follow an anti-inflammatory diet.

4. Insulin may help treat depression

Researchers are so confident that depression can be linked to sugar intake that they’ve studied using insulin to treat it. In one study, researchers found that people with both major depression and insulin resistance showed improvement in their depression symptoms when they were given medication to treat diabetes for 12 weeks. The effect was particularly strong in younger study participants.

More research is needed before doctors can begin prescribing insulin or other diabetes medication for people with depression. However, talk to your doctor about new research and alternative treatment options.

5. Men at greater risk for sugar’s effects

Men may be more susceptible to the mental health effects of sugar than women. In one studyTrusted Source, researchers found that men who ate 67 grams of sugar or more per day were 23 percent more likely to have depression after five years. Men who ate 40 grams of sugar or less had a lower risk of depression.

The American Heart Association recommends adults eat no more than 25 (women) to 36 (men) grams of added sugar every day. More than 82 percentTrusted Source of Americans exceed that daily recommendation. That’s because sugar can quickly add up. For example, one 12-ounce can of soda has about 39 grams of sugar, which exceeds the recommended daily amount of added sugar. According to the CDCTrusted Source, men also eat more calories from sugar in a day than women.

Read labels carefully to spot hidden sugar. Just because something is savory, like a sauce, or healthy, like yogurt, doesn’t meant that there isn’t any added sugar, either.

6. It’s the type of carb, not the quantity, that counts

Reducing sugar doesn’t mean you need to reduce carbs. One study looked at the quantity and quality of carbs consumed by nearly 70,000 women who had completed menopause. Researchers applied a glycemic index (GI) score to each food they analyzed. Foods with high GI scores, which raise blood sugar levels more, are often made from simple carbs and filled with simple sugars. The results showed that women who ate high-GI foods had a higher risk of depression than people who ate lower-GI foods. Women who ate a higher amount of lower-GI foods, such as vegetables and non-juiced fruit, had a lower risk for depression.

The results mean that carbohydrates in general aren’t the cause for depression and other mental health disorders. Instead, it’s the quality of the carbs you eat that can impact your depression risk.

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