Sugar and Anxiety

We all love yummy, tasty, oh-so-delicious, sugar. But do you know who else loves sugar- Anxiety.

According to registered dietician Erin Palinski-Wade in a recent article for Healthline Magazine, “Added sugars cause your blood sugar to go on a rollercoaster ride of spikes and crashes, and with it, your energy also goes up and down,” says Palinski-Wade. “When blood sugar crashes, your mood sours, and anxiety levels can spike.”

When we consume too much sugar, our body releases insulin to help absorb excess glucose in order to stabilize our blood sugar levels. However, by consuming large amounts of sugar, our bodies have to work extra hard to get back to normal, which leads to emotional and energetic highs and lows. These spikes and drops can lead to feelings of anxiety, worry, irritability, and even sadness.

Though it’s true that sugar naturally occurs in many foods, such as fruit, the sugar that we need to watch out for is added sugar.  Common culprits are cookies, ice cream, candy, and pies- all full of added sugar. Even condiments like ketchup, salad dressing, and pasta sauce, can have a lot of added sugar. Another big culprit is breakfast cereal.

So what are we to do, especially given that the holiday season often comes with an abundance of sugary rich treats?

Abruptly quitting processed sugar after years of consumption, might not be the best idea over the holidays. Not only is it really difficult, but our bodies will potentially go through an uncomfortable withdrawal period. Though this doesn’t last forever, it can be rather unpleasant, causing side effects like more anxiety, irritability, confusion, and fatigue.

So eating too much sugar causes anxiety and not eating sugar causes anxiety. Is that what we’re saying here?

Kind of, but there is a middle ground. And that middle ground is being conscious of our sugar intake, cutting back on it, and looking for an alternative, healthier way to satisfy our sweet tooth.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

•.    Use dried fruits like cherries and cranberries when baking instead of chocolate chips ( or at least try and go 50/50).
•      Use whole-grain bread and pasta instead of white ( whole grain has more fiber, nutrients, and won’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar levels).
•      Swap a few ( not all ) dessert options for fruits.
•      Instead of adding white sugar to your food or beverage, use fruit juice concentrates or other natural sweeteners like stevia and honey. You can also opt to use fruits and spices to add sweetness and flavor like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

If you want to cut sugar out of your diet completely, that’s great,  but note that it should be done with caution, and ideally with the help of a registered dietician or holistic provider. You can also find many resources and support online to help you through the elimination process.

That being said, when it comes to sugar consumption, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Simply cutting back on your sugar intake through smaller portion sizes, better choices ( fruit, whole-grain bread ), and being sure to get enough physical exercise, is a great start and can make a big difference in your anxiety levels and overall sense of health and wellbeing.

For more information on the effect that sugar can have on your mental health check out the following link:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has some great tips for erring on the healthy side during the holidays. You can check them out here:

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