A single ice-cream sundae can’t cause anxiety. But eating a ton of refined sugar on the reg can increase your risk of developing anxiety and other mood concerns. There’s also a chance sugar can make your symptoms worse. Here’s the sweet scoop.
The occasional sweet treat won’t cause anxiety. However, studies show that diets high in sugar can mess with your mood. Here’s what the science says.
In a 2017 study, researchers collected data on 23,245 people. They found that men who had a higher sugar intake had a 23 percent higher chance of developing common mental disorders (CMD) after 5 years.
FYI: This includes depressive and anxiety disorders. The researchers also noted that a lower intake of sugar might help improve psychological health.
Another recent study of 1,128 older adults found that participants who followed a diet high in sugar and saturated fat were more likely to have higher levels of anxiety than those who didn’t.
Additionally, diets that are high in simple sugars have been found to contribute to brain dysfunction and inflammation. Both of these factors can contribute to mental health concerns including anxiety.
While eating and drinking less sugar can help reduce anxiety symptoms, it’s not a cure-all. It’s your diet as a whole that matters most when it comes to promoting overall health and reducing your risk of developing a mental health disorder like anxiety.
That said, don’t just focus on cutting out refined sugar. Instead, try to improve your overall diet by eating more nutrient-dense foods.
If your current diet is super high in added sugar, try slowly cutting back on sugary foods and beverages and monitor your anxiety symptoms. If you’re still experiencing a lot of anxiety symptoms, something else might be to blame.
So obvi, baked goodies like donuts, cakes, and cookies are usually loaded with sweet stuff. But lots of foods you might not suspect sneak beaucoup sugar into the mix. Watch out for foods like:
Using sugar substitutes can seem like an effective way to reduce real sugar intake. But certain artificial sweeteners might not be great for your anxiety either.
According to a 2018 study, aspartame has been linked to cognitive and behavioral problems. In addition to anxiety, possible symptoms can include headaches, migraine, and insomnia. Researchers from a 2014 study also noted that ingesting a lot of aspartame — 25 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight a day — might make you more prone to irritability and depression.
A 2018 animal study found that Splenda and Stevia led to unfavorable changes in dopamine. Psst. This neurotransmitter plays an important role in anxiety modulation. So, while we def need more research on humans, there’s a chance consuming large amounts of these fake sugars can impact your mood.
Sugar withdrawal is no joke. Some peeps say withdrawing from sugar can cause panic attacks, sweating, and sadness. A 2018 study found it can also trigger:
To avoid a full-blown sugar detox, you might not want to quit sugar cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety might be less intense if you slowly cut back over the course of a few weeks. Just remember that everyone’s different. So be patient with the process and treat yourself with kindness ❤️.
PSA: You might want to talk with a healthcare professional or registered dietician before making any major changes to your diet.
Sugar isn’t the only food that’s associated with anxiety.
According to a 2021 review, anxiety has been linked to diets that are high in cholesterol, trans fats, and simple carbs.
Additionally, a 2021 review that included 16 studies found that an inflammatory diet was associated with a 27 percent increased risk of anxiety symptoms. Foods and beverages that may contribute to inflammation include:
- fried foods
- refined carbs
- processed meats
- sugary drinks like soda
P.S. Caffeine can also worsen anxiety symptoms in some peeps. So, you might want to switch to decaf if you think your morning cup of joe is behind your stressful symptoms.
Oh, and one more thing… studies show that diets high in refined food and low in nutrient-dense foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile, maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D, omega-3s, magnesium, and vitamin C is associated with reduced anxiety.
Studies show that cutting out foods and beverages high in added sugar may help reduce anxiety symptoms in some people. So, it might not be a bad idea to cut back on your added sugar intake.
Just keep in mind that sugar might not be the sole cause of your anxiety. If you still experience symptoms after you’ve cut sugar out of your diet, talk with a healthcare professional. They can help you figure out what’s going on and how to get the right treatment for your unique needs.