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What to Know About Sugar and Depression

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 29, 2021

Sugar is one of the most controversial foods, and many people do not know how much is safe to eat every day. It's important to know the effects sugar has on your body and brain. The amount of sugar you consume may have a significant impact on your mental state. Discover how sugar has been linked to depression and other mental health issues, and how you can monitor your sugar intake.

Sugar and Depression

It's almost common knowledge that eating a lot of sugar is not good for your health. It can cause or worsen conditions like heart disease and diabetes. It's important to know that consuming large amounts of sugar may also put you at risk of developing mental disorders like depression.

You can get sugar from foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. It is also heavily present in processed foods like cakes, soda, and candy. The average American diet is largely made up of digestible carbohydrates, most of which are refined and contain lots of sugar.

Consuming too much processed sugar may lead to mood disorders and other chronic conditions like diabetes. On the contrary, a diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, fish, and other whole foods can significantly reduce the risk of depression.

The Impact of Sugar on Your Mental Health and More

Eating too much sugar can have an impact on your mental health and cause some issues in your daily life. Here are some ways your mental health could be impacted by too much sugar:

Greater risk for men. Studies indicate that men are more at risk of adverse mental health conditions related to sugar than women. Men who consume more than 40 grams of sugar per day are highly likely to be diagnosed with depression in a few years. 

Sugar addiction. Research shows that sugar can be more addictive than hard drugs like cocaine. Being addicted to sugar could cause you to develop depression and other mood disorders.

Inflammation. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been found to reduce inflammation in the body. Since severe inflammatory disorders have been linked to depression, healthy consumption of natural sources of sugar may reduce your chances of getting depression from inflammatory conditions.

If you love sugar, watch out for some common signs of depression, like changes in sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and high perceptions of pain.

How to Cut Back on Sugar

How much sugar is safe to consume daily? It is recommended that adult males consume an average of 36 grams of sugar per day. An adult female should consume an average of 25 grams of sugar per day.

Always check the calorie amounts on sugar packet labels before buying to keep track of your daily sugar intake.

Now that you know how harmful excess sugar can be to your overall health, cutting down on its consumption can positively impact your health. Here are a few tips that can help you reduce your sugar intake:

  • When you feel thirsty, make a habit of drinking water instead of sugary drinks like soda.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you add to foods like pancakes, cereal, tea, and coffee. Start by cutting the amount of sugar by half and gradually reduce it from there.
  • Use fresh (cherries, bananas, or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, apricots, or cranberries) in cereal instead of adding sugar.
  • Reduce the use of non-nutritive sweeteners.
  • Eat foods that contain natural sugars like fruits. If the fruits are canned, choose those in water or natural fruit juice instead of syrup and synthetic juice.
  • Consider using extracts (orange, almond, vanilla, or lemon) in place of sugar in recipes.
  • Choose food products that contain low amounts of sugars while shopping. Check the lists of ingredients and compare.
  • Use less sugar when baking. Cutting the amount of sugar suggested in the recipe by a third will not make a big difference in taste.
  • Replace sugar with spices in food to improve the taste.

Final Thoughts

It is important to note that eating too much refined sugar can increase the risk of being depressed. The adverse effects are not only on your mood but can also lead to some chronic health conditions. Consult with your doctor if you think sugar is causing you any health problems. If you are showing signs of depression, seek professional help or advice on how to reduce your daily sugar intake.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "How much sugar is too much?", "Sugar 101: Naturally Occurring Sugars and Added Sugar.", “Tips for Cutting Down on Sugar.”

 BJM Open: "Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study." 

Cambridge University Press: "Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age."

PLOS ONE: "Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward."

 Scientific Reports: "Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study."  

University College London: “Too Much Sugar Could Increase Depression in Men.”

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