“Sweet food has been found to induce positive feelings in the short-term. People experiencing low mood may eat sugary foods in the hope of alleviating negative feelings. Our study suggests a high intake of sugary foods is more likely to have the opposite effect on mental health in the long-term.”
~ Anika Knüppel, Ph.D. student at the Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London
Knuppel’s research supplements many other scientific studies on the link between sugar and mental health. In the end, they all seem to reach the same conclusion:
In addition to the physical damage sugar does to our body, an effect on mental health definitely exists. What we presently don’t know is the magnitude or the exact scope of these negative effects.
Sugar Linked to Depression in Multiple Studies
The team at University College London examined the amount of sugar in the diet and common mental health problems in a large sample of 5000 men and 2000 women who were part of the 1980’s Whitehall II study. They compared groups of participants based on their sugar intake and their sex.
The researchers concluded that men with the highest sugar intake had a 23 percent higher chance of suffering a mental disorder. They based this estimated risk on a comparison with other men who consumed the lowest levels of sugar. Interestingly, the analysis did not identify the same link in women.
Knuppel’s isn’t the first researcher to link high-sugar diet to a higher risk of depression. Here are the findings of several other studies conducted over the last couple of decades.
- A study out of Baylor College, published in 2002, analyzed sugar consumption in six countries. The researchers found that higher rates of refined sugar were associated with higher rates of depression.
- In Spain, researchers assessed the relationship between consumption of fast food and commercial baked goods (muffins, doughnuts, croissants) and the incidence of depression. They discovered that participants belonging to the group with higher consumption quantities showed an increased risk of depression compared with those belonging to the lowest level of consumption.
- Another study exposed the link between sugar and depression in 2014. This one evaluated the consumption of various types of beverages in over 260,000 participants with self-reported depression diagnosis. The researchers concluded that frequent consumption of sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, may increase depression risk.
- Finally, in 2015, yet another US-based study evaluated the effects of added-sugar and naturally occurring sugar intake in 70,000 women. In conclusion, researchers associated progressively higher consumption of dietary added sugars with increasing odds of depression.
Sugar in the Modern Diet
Research continues to confirm the adverse effects of sugar intake. Consequently, if you seek better long-term psychological health, lowering your intake of sugar may be a beneficial preventative measure.
Unfortunately, people typically eat excessive amounts of sugar. Here are some statistics:
The World Health Organization recommends that people reduce their daily intake of added sugars (that is, all sugar, excluding the sugar that is naturally found in fruit, vegetables and milk) to less than 5% of their total energy intake. However, people in the UK consume double – in the US, triple – that amount of sugar. Three-quarters of these added sugars come from sweet food and beverages, such as cakes and soft drinks. The rest come from other processed foods, such as ketchup. (source)
There are many factors that contribute to mental illness such as depression. Scientific proof continues to point the finger at diet as an important and significant culprit. Therefore, radically reducing or even eliminating sugar altogether may a crucial step to not only treating but curing symptoms of depression and anxiety.