Most of us can agree that sugar is highly delicious & is likely in SO many of our favourite foods!
Today I’m breaking down everything you need to know about sugar in regards to anxiety! I’ll be answering the important question of: “Does sugar trigger anxiety?”
I’ll also be going over what sugars you should avoid – and ones that are better to consume.
It’s important to note – when speaking about sugar here, I’m referring to refined and processed sugars, not naturally occurring ones such as those found in fruit (and pretty much any carbohydrate!).
Does Sugar Trigger Anxiety?
It’s no secret, ask any food/ mood expert about which foods are triggers for anxiety, and you can guess the majority of those experts will have refined sugar fairly high up on the list (myself included).
In her book, ‘This is Your Brain on Food‘, Dr. Uma Naidoo, nutritional psychiatrist at Harvard University, puts sugar on the list of ‘to avoid’ for nearly all mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD etc. (1)
So to answer the question in short – yes – refined sugars are most definitely a trigger for anxiety! But how so…?
How Does Sugar Trigger Anxiety?
There are numerous mechanisms as to how sugar contributes to triggering anxiety.
BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION:
One of the primary reasons sugar can have such an impact on your anxiety levels, has to do with the fact that sugar can cause your blood sugars to spike.
When blood sugars spike too high too fast, the body will release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, (7) thus signalling to your body and mind that you could potentially be in danger or have something to fear.
MOST SUGAR IS GMO AND LOADED WITH GLYPHOSATE:
The majority of refined sugars today such as refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup are grown from genetically modified crops. Crops such as corn or sugar beet are modified in order to be tolerant of high levels of glyphosate spraying.
This is problematic for the brain and body as when ingested, glyphosate acts like an antibiotic in the gut, killing important bacteria that help to produce mood regulating neurotransmitters (2, 3). Be sure to read more about why GMO crops can impact anxiety HERE.
SUGAR CAN DEPLETE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM & YOUR ABILITY TO DEAL WITH STRESS:
Sugar is both known as inflammatory in the body and an immune depleter (5).
Not only this, but it’s been found that sugar can impact ones ability to deal with stress (4). Although potentially providing short term stress relief, the long term impacts of high sugar consumption are certainly known to be a trigger for anxiety.
SUGAR CAN IMPACT YOUR COGNITIVE FUNCTION:
High sugar diets can have an impact on the way your brain functions. In fact, a 2015 study has found that sugar can impair cognitive functions such as decision making and memory (6).
This study exemplifies how sugar can certainly have huge impact on our entire body – including our brains and even the way we think – including increased feelings of anxiety!
REFINED SUGAR CAN BE CONFUSING FOR YOUR BODY:
Our ancestors did NOT eat the types of refined sugar we are eating today! One of the most problematic parts of the refined sugars we now eat, has to do with the fact that they are stripped of all their nutrients and leave our bodies confused as to what to do with all the calories we’ve consumed, without co-founding nutrients to help balance things out. Thus sending our body into a state of anxiety.
For example, in an unrefined sugar such as real maple syrup, there are tons of antioxidants and nutrients such as chromium, manganese, and riboflavin. These co-founding nutrients along side the natural sugar in maple syrup, help to balance our blood sugars out and provide our bodies with what they need to process the sugar.
What Sugar to Avoid?
There are over 56 different names for refined sugar – so I’m not going to list them all here. However, below are a list of some of the most common ones to avoid.
- White granulated sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Icing sugar
- Agave (I recommend avoiding it because it’s highly processed and very high in fructose!)
- Any artificial sweeteners (aspartame, splenda, sweet n low, etc.)
What Sugars to Consume?
The good news is – there are so many great options to refined sugars that will likely not spike your blood sugars, raise your cortisol levels, or send your body into a state of anxiety (when eaten in moderation)!
Below are a few of my favourite more natural sugars to consume:
- Real maple syrup
- Raw honey
- Dates/ dried fruits
- Mashed bananas/ fresh fruits
- Organic cane sugar (use in moderation)
- Coconut sugar (use in moderation)
Another Important Note:
One of the BEST ways to ensure you don’t trigger anxiety when eating the sugars listed above, is to include a healthy fat and/ or protein along with it!
For example, having some nut butter with a banana, muffins with hemp hearts and nuts in side (like the ones pictured below), or ‘bliss balls/ bars’ made with dates, pumpkin seeds, and raw cacao (like the ones pictured above).
As you can see, through many different mechanisms, refined sugar can certainly be a trigger for anxiety! However, there are so many amazing alternatives to refined sugars, that will not do so (when consumed within moderation).
It’s important to note that when giving up refined sugar, you body might even go through a ‘with drawal’ period which in the short term, might lead to feelings of panic or increased anxiety.
If you have questions, or are looking for extra support in transitioning into a diet that can help to reduce your anxiety levels – be sure to message me to learn more about applying for my ‘One on One Anxiety Reduction Nutrition Protocol’!