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It’s no secret that sugar can cause issues if you’re indulging in a little too much of the sweet stuff. Still, most Americans are eating too much sugar.
The harmful effects it can have on your physical health are well studied, which is why we talk so much about reducing sugar intake to lower the risk of these effects, like chronic disease.
While ditching the sweet stuff can result in a physically healthier you, it’s the effect sugar has on our mental health that’s worth taking a second look.
You’ve probably heard of the term “sugar rush” — and have maybe even turned to a doughnut or soda for an extra boost during a long day.
Yet sugar may not be such a positive pick-me-up after all. Recent research indicates that sugary treats have no positive effect on mood.
In fact, sugar may have the opposite effect over time.
A more recent
Although more studies are needed to solidify the relationship between mood and sugar consumption, it’s important to consider how
If your idea of coping with stress involves a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, you’re not alone. Lots of people turn to sugary sweets when they feel anxious.
That’s because sugary foods can
Sugar can help you feel less frazzled by suppressing the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in your brain, which controls your response to stress.
Yet the temporary relief sweets provide may make you more reliant on sugar, and raise the risk of obesity and its related diseases.
The study was limited to just 19 female participants, but results were consistent with other
While findings show a definite link between sugar intake and anxiety, researchers would like to see more studies done on humans.
It’s hard to avoid reaching for comfort foods, especially after a difficult day.
But the cycle of consuming sugar to manage your emotions may only make your feelings of sadness, fatigue, or hopelessness worse.
Multiple studies have found a link between
Overconsumption of sugar triggers imbalances in certain brain chemicals. These imbalances can lead to depression and may even increase the long-term risk of developing a mental health disorder in some people.
In fact, a
Even though the study just involved men, the link between sugar and depression is also found in
Quitting processed sugar might not be as simple as you think.
Withdrawing from sugar can actually cause side effects, such as:
This has led
When someone misuses a substance for a period of time, like cocaine, their body goes into a physiological state of withdrawal when they stop using it.
Naidoo says that people who are consuming high amounts of sugar in their diets can similarly experience the physiological sensation of withdrawal if they suddenly stop consuming sugar.
That’s why going cold turkey from sugar may not be the best solution for someone who also has anxiety.
“Suddenly stopping sugar intake can mimic withdrawal and feel like a panic attack,” Naidoo says. And if you have an anxiety disorder, this experience of withdrawal can be heightened.
Your stomach may be telling you to dive in and drink your way out of that jumbo cherry Icee, but your brain has a different idea.
Emerging research has found that diets high in sugar can impair cognitive functioning, even in the absence of extreme weight gain or excessive energy intake.
Granted, the research was done on rats.
But a more recent study found that healthy volunteers in their 20s scored worse on memory tests and had poorer appetite control after just 7 days of eating a diet high in saturated fat and added sugars.
While more studies are necessary to establish a clearer link between sugar and cognition, it’s worth noting that your diet can affect your brain health.
Just because you’re ditching or limiting processed sugar doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself the pleasure of sweet-tasting food.
In addition to being a doctor known as an expert on food and mood, Naidoo is also a chef and the author of the forthcoming book “This Is Your Brain on Food.”
Here are a few of her favorite low- or no-sugar recipes.
Chef Uma’s Chai Tea Smoothie
- 1 serving vanilla protein powder of your choice
- 1/4 avocado
- 1 tbsp. almond butter
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1/8 tsp. each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cardamom spice
- 1/4 tsp. organic vanilla essence
- a small bit of organic honey to sweeten, if needed
- brewed chai tea instead of spices
- avocado for creaminess
- Add all ingredients to your blender.
- Blend until smooth.
Chef Uma’s tips
- If you don’t have the spices, brew a cup of chai tea using tea bags or whole leaf tea. Use it instead of the almond milk.
- For a thinner smoothie, add more almond milk.
- For creaminess, add avocado. It’s also a healthy fat to boot!
Chef Uma’s Watermelon Pops
- 4 cups chopped watermelon
- 1 tablespoon honey
- juice of 1 lime
- zest of 1 lime
- 1 cup whole blueberries
- Puree the watermelon, honey, lime juice, and lime zest in a blender.
- Pour into square ice cube trays or popsicle molds.
- Before fully frozen, add ice cream stick to each ice cube or mold.
- If desired, add whole blueberries to ice cube trays or popsicle molds.
Chef Uma’s tips
- You can omit the honey, as a ripe watermelon can be very sweet.
- Blueberries can incorporate a fun pop of color and add an antioxidant boost.
Chef Uma’s Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Red Miso Paste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup red miso paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- Preheat oven to 425ºF (218ºC).
- Create a marinade by mixing the olive oil, red miso paste, and salt and pepper.
- Peel and cut sweet potatoes into equal-sized pieces or discs.
- Toss the sweet potatoes in the marinade.
- Place sweet potatoes on a sheet pan in a single layer.
- Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Chef Uma’s tips
- You can substitute white miso paste for less of an umami flavor.
- It may be easier to coat all the potatoes with the marinade if you put both in a Ziploc bag, then toss around.
- Sweet potatoes are a healthy source of fiber and phytonutrients.
Sara Lindberg, BS, MEd, is a freelance health and fitness writer. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science and a master’s degree in counseling. She’s spent her life educating people on the importance of health, wellness, mindset, and mental health. She specializes in the mind-body connection, with a focus on how our mental and emotional well-being impact our physical fitness and health.