Thinking about reaching for a donut or a candy bar, or even a big plate of spaghetti? Think again.
Candy, carbs and even canned foods may contain enough sugar to alter your mood and send you into depression, especially if they make up a regular part of your diet.
Researchers at Columbia University studied the impact that foods with a “high glycemic index” had on over 70,000 women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study on women’s health. They discovered that the higher a woman’s blood sugar rose after eating sugar and refined grains like those in regular pasta and white bread, the higher her risk for depression. And how likely is that blood sugar level to rise? Pretty high. According to a report from the University of North Carolina, most Americans eat an average of 300 calories in added sugar every day; roughly 20 percent of Americans exceed 700 calories of added sugar daily.
That’s an entire cup of sugar, reports Prevention, enough to measurably impact our health, our weight and yes, our mood, as well as create other health problems.
Here are 7 specific ways sugar can make you depressed. Some are psychological and some are actual physiological triggers for depression.
- It makes you feel guilty.
Who among us doesn’t feel at least a twinge of guilt if we “splurge” on a bowl of ice cream or “sneak” a bag of M&Ms? Do you indulge your craving for cookies or pies, then feel bad the rest of the day for “going off your diet” or not being healthy enough?
- Too much sugar increases inflammation throughout the body and brain, which could worsen depression.
A study published here found that brain inflammation was 30 percent higher in clinically depressed patients; conversely, patients that were able to lower levels of inflammation decreased their depression symptoms.
- It can increase your blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature mortality in the developed world, and hypertension is its most important risk factor,” reported Open Heart, a peer-reviewed journal on cardiovascular medicine. “Evidence from epidemiological studies and experimental trials in animals and humans suggests that added sugars, particularly fructose, may increase blood pressure and blood pressure variability, increase heart rate and myocardial oxygen demand, and contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and broader metabolic dysfunction.” Give up eating so much sugar and your risk of dying from heart disease drops threefold. Happy dance, anyone?
- It can give you acne.
Who doesn’t think pimples and zits are a downer? But the more sweets and soda you consume, the more inflammation you may have, and systemic inflammation can trigger acne. Switching to filtered water flavored with a twist of lime or lemon might be in order.
- Added sugar can cause diabetes, which can make depression worse.
Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, has found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, compared to getting 150 calories from protein or fat. The National Institutes of Health says that, “In addition to possibly increasing your risk for depression, diabetes may make symptoms of depression worse. The stress of managing diabetes every day and the effects of diabetes on the brain may contribute to depression. In the U.S. people with diabetes are twice as likely as the average person to have depression.”
- It can fog your memory.
A high sugar diet affected the ability of lab animals to learn and remember. Scientists don’t think it’s a stretch to connect eating lots of sugar with cognitive impairments in people. Even if it doesn’t lead to clinical depression, losing the ability to remember names, important dates and other day-to-day data can be pretty disheartening.
It can make you gain weight.
The link between sugary drinks and weight gain has been documented time and time again. So has the link between overweight and obesity and depression. Studies show that obese people are about 25 percent more likely to experience a mood disorder like depression, compared with those who are not obese. Obesity can cause poor self-image, low self-esteem and social isolation, all known contributors to depression.
So, what can you do if you still want to enjoy sweets and carbs, but stay healthy and happy?
* Add no more than six teaspoons of sugar to your diet in a day. Keep overall sugar consumption below 5 percent of your total daily calories, recommends the World Health Organization.
* Eat sweets occasionally rather than every day. They really should be a treat, not a regular part of your diet.
* Avoid binging in front of the television or the computer. Mindlessly snacking on junk food is an easy way to consume too much sugar
* Be intentional about how much sugar you add to your diet in a day. Don’t worry about natural fruits and vegetables, but beware the sugar you add to your coffee, cereals that may contain added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup and processed bakery goods made with white flour and sugar.
* Don’t replace “real” sugar with artificial sweeteners. A study from Northwestern Ohio University, reports the New York Post, found that aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, actually made people more depressed, even to the point of developing suicidal thoughts.
* Add more fruits (not fruit juice, which has high levels of sugar), vegetables and whole grains to your diet. The same study that linked high sugar consumption to depression found that a diet high in whole grains and produce lowers a woman’s risk of depression. So…pass the whole wheat pasta, please.