Is Sugar Making You Depressed? And 8 More Things You Don’t Want to Miss

June 22, 2015

Do you need to cut back on sugar? Here are some ways to still satisfy your sweet cravings without added sugars.

As we become increasingly cognizant of the sugar content in our everyday foods, it’s important to stay vigilant and continue to read labels as sugar is undoubtedly detrimental to our health. 

How much should you consume? The World Health Organization advises consumers to limit sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories consumed daily. And capping your sugar intake at just five percent of your daily calories (for women, 100 calories or about 25 grams total, six teaspoons, and for men, 150 calories per day, or about nine teaspoons total) "would provide additional health benefits," the guideline says.

Sugar is not a health food! High sugar intake is implicated in heart disease, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, hypertension, diabetes, decreased immunity, general inflammation and more.

Sugar impairs memory and learning skills. A study from UCLA found that a diet high in fructose (a type of sugar) hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down and impairing brain function. Researcher also found that heavy sugar intake associated with insulin resistance not only has an affect on blood sugar control, but disrupts brain function as well. UCLA’s Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla commented, "Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new."

Sugar could give you the blues or even give you anxiety. Akin to a sugar crash, having high peaks and sudden drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, fatigue and brain fog. When your blood sugar inevitably dips - aka the “crash” many find themselves feeling anxious, moody or even depressed. Additionally, consuming sugar stimulates the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Constantly over-activating this serotonin pathway can deplete its limited supplies – potentially leading to depression.

Here are some suggestions on how to decrease your sugar intake: First things first, read labels… on everything! Sugar can hide in unexpected places: pasta sauces, ketchup, BBQ sauce, “healthy” smoothies and fresh pressed juices, protein bars, bread, yogurt, salad dressings, and of course traditional baked goods like doughnuts, muffins, cupcakes, cake, cookies, and more. Don’t let front of package labeling fool you, always check the nutrition facts panel for sugar content –keeping under 10 grams (closer to five is even better!) will help you make the best choices for your health. In addition, comparing labels on different brands is also advised.

Cut back on the amount of added sugars you consume. This includes coffee, tea, and breakfast items that you may add syrup or a teaspoon of sugar to (that might already be sweetened!). To start, try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean from there. Another great tip is to remove sugar and sweeteners from the table and possibly even you cupboard! Try adding nutrient dense fruits including berries and bananas to sweeten naturally.

Other helpful tips: Buy fresh fruits or if you're purchasing canned fruits make sure they are in water or natural juice; avoid those canned in syrup. 

When baking treats, substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in equal amounts or try cutting back on the sugar called for in recipes by one-third - you probably won’t even notice a difference.

Make your meals more interesting with nutrient dense, antioxidant rich spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Enjoying sweets doesn’t always mean relying on added sugars. Once you have weaned yourself off some of the sugar in your diet you will start to truly enjoy the natural sweetness of fruits and even some vegetables! And as you can see, cutting back on sugar is key for optimal health.