Reality check: Does too much sugar lead to depression?
Previous studies have shown that sugar can be just as addictive as cocaine, but recent research suggests the sweet stuff may not be doing any favours for our mental health, either.
According to a recent report by the University College London, published in the Scientific Reports journal, men who consumed a high intake of sweet food and drinks were more likely to develop common mental health disorders like anxiety and depression after five years.
“Our research confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health,” researchers wrote.
Looking into the research
To find patterns between eating sugar and developing mental health disorders, civil participants in the U.K. were monitored between 1985 to 1988, and then were asked to filled out questionnaires ever few years until 2013. The experts studied more than 8,000 people, but a majority of them (around 5,000) were men.
Researchers noted men who consumed more than 67 grams of sugar a day had a 23 per cent increased chance of experiencing a mental health disorder — compared to those who ate less than 39.5 grams per day, the Guardian reports.
But the study has also received some criticism, including the fact that consumption was self-reported, and sugar intake from alcohol was not included.
“The dietary analysis makes it impossible to justify the bold claims made by the researchers about sugar and depression in men,” dietitian Catherine Collins, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, told AFP. “Reducing intake of free sugars is good for your teeth, and may be good for your weight, too. But as protection against depression? It’s not proven.”
But previous research also points to similar results — sugar was not good for your mental health. One 2004 report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found a high intake of refined sugar and dairy increased the risk of depression and was even worse for people who had schizophrenia, Psychology Today reports.
The site adds The Standard American Diet, which is full of fat and sugar, didn’t increase the likelihood of developing anxiety but made anxiety symptoms in individuals worse.
Digging deeper into sugar
Abby Langer, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, says we should take studies like these with a grain of salt.
“[There are] always limitations with a questionnaire,” she tells Global News. “Depression is subjective and the reporting could be subjective.”
She adds the study also didn’t look at the consumption of straight sugar. She says if participants were mostly eating sugary foods, it could have also been the saturated fat, for example, affecting their mental health. “[Research has shown] people who are mentally ill tend to eat more sugar, there is a link for sure, but this study doesn’t prove that sugar is the cause.”
Langer argues instead of focusing so much on sugar, a highly processed diet high in sugar and refined carbs can result in low energy levels. “A diet high in protein, veggies and fruit can help your energy levels,” she says.
Cutting back on sugar this summer
And while criticisms of this particular study doesn’t mean you should load up on sugar, Langer says summer can be a tricky time to limit consumption.
“It is very important to avoid sweetened beverages,” she says. “I know you may want Gatorade, but if you aren’t running a marathon, you don’t need it.”
Iced hot drinks (think iced coffees) and the increased consumption of alcohol during warmer months, can also add up in the long-run. And instead of reaching for ice cream or another trendy summer dessert, opt for seasonal fruit instead.
“Just have frozen desserts less often,” she continues. “Limit the treats to once or twice a week.”
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