This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
It’s no secret that sugar affects our physical health, but did you know that sugar can also impact our mental health.
Studies show that there’s a strong link between the consumption of sugar and anxiety, and I can confirm this from personal experience.
In a nutshell, sugar and anxiety are not a good combination, and so if you’re wondering.
- Can sugar cause anxiety? or
- Why does sugar cause anxiety?
…you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, I’m going to teach you what is sugar, how it affects your anxiety, and how to cut down on sugar, while still managing your cravings.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, that is found in both natural and processed foods.
So, is all sugar bad?
Of course not!
Natural whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruit contain natural sugars as well as many other beneficial nutrients required for health, and these foods are important elements of a healthy diet.
The sugars that we need to worry about are refined sugars, also known as processed, hidden, or added sugars.
These are heavily refined foods or ingredients, often low in nutrients, and generally mixed with additives, chemicals, and/or preservatives.
Refined sugars can negatively impact your anxiety as well as your overall health!
Processed sugars should be avoided and they are the focus of the rest of this article.
What are the Different Names for Sugar?
Sugar is not only white sugar or brown sugar.
There are many different types of sugar.
So, cutting out sugar does not only mean cutting out table sugar!
Other names for sugar include
- fruit juice concentrates, and
…agave syrup, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup, are more examples of refined sugar.
In fact, there are over 90 different names for sugar that manufacturers use when listing ingredients on food products.
Check out the image below where I list all of these 90 different names for sugar!
What are the Worst Sugars for Anxiety?
While, in general, refined sugar is not good for your health and can impact your anxiety, there are still a few worst culprits that you need to watch out for including aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, saccharin, agave nectar, and sucralose.
If your food contains any of these ingredients, I highly recommend that you do not consume it!
These are the worst sugars for your anxiety and now you’re going to see why.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is derived from corn starch and is one of the unhealthiest options for added sugar. Much of it contains mercury, a by-product of chemical processing. Studies show that mercury has been linked to depression, excessive anger, and anxiety.
Another danger of HFCS is its high artificial fructose content. Not to mention that it can be 75 times sweeter than white sugar! Research also indicate that diets rich in fructose induce anxiety and depression‐like behaviors in rats.
Unfortunately, even though it comes from a cactus (which is natural!), agave nectar is heavily processed and refined. Similar to HFCS, it contains a large amount of refined fructose (90% fructose and 10% glucose). It is as well worth noting that processed nectar is more damaging to the liver than HFCS!
People often choose diet soda drinks because they believe it is better / healthier. But 90% of diet soda drinks contain an ingredient called aspartame. This is a toxic laboratory-created sugar alternative.
Aspartame is by far the most dangerous substance added to most foods today. It accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death.
Studies show that aspartame has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems including learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Aspartame has also been linked to Dizziness, Seizures, Vertigo, Nausea, Numbness, Muscle spasms, Vision problems, Hearing loss, Joint pain, Weight gain, Rashes, Breathing difficulties, Tachycardia, Heart palpitations, Slurred speech, Tinnitus, and Loss of taste.
Furthermore, according to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame:
Brain tumors, Multiple sclerosis, Epilepsy, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Multiple sclerosis, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Mental retardation, Lymphoma, Birth defects, Fibromyalgia, and Diabetes.
NutraSweet and most chewing gums contain aspartame and these should be avoided.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is non-caloric, but the body struggles to break it down. t’s approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar).
According to research, there’s a link between sucralose and raised insulin levels, while insulin resistance has shown to affect behavioral disorders.
Sucralose is available in things like protein powders, Splenda, and other products reliant upon remaining low-sugar or low-carb, all of which should be avoided.
Saccharin is another artificial sweetener, created back in the late 1890s, that is approximately 300-400 times as sweet as sucrose. Studies show saccharin can cause depression and anxiety-like behavior.
Why Sugar and Anxiety are not a Good Combination?
Sugar, Nutrient Deficiencies & Anxiety
A diet high in refined sugar is likely to lead to nutrient deficiencies because
- Refined sugars and foods containing sugar are usually poor in nutrients, and
- Sugar depletes and reduces the absorption of key vitamins and minerals
Nutrient deficiencies are a major cause of disease, and studies have linked a lack of certain vitamins and minerals to anxiety and depression.
For example, vitamin C (antioxidant), magnesium, vitamin D, and calcium are at most risk of being depleted as a result of high sugar consumption, while these exact nutrients are also lacking in people with anxiety disorders.
Sugar, Inflammation & Anxiety
According to research eating too much added sugar and too many refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the body.
While, inflammation caused by poor dietary habits can over time cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, anxiety disorders, and allergies.
Sugar, Weight Gain & Anxiety
Your body either burns sugar for energy or converts it to fat and store in the cells. But, in general, there’s more room for fat storage.
So, if you eat too much sugar, over time that’s likely to result in weight gain or obesity.
This is bad news for anxiety – studies show that there’s a connection between anxiety and obesity.
Weight gain can lead to poor breathing habits and reduced physical activity, which can trigger anxiety symptoms and panic attacks.
Sugar Cravings & Anxiety
When you consume sugar, your pancreas responds by releasing insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating the level of sugar in your blood. The more sugar you consume, the more insulin will be released.
But increased levels of insulin lead to quicker drops in blood sugar. This is known as a sugar crash or hypoglycemia, which you experience as sugar cravings! If you respond to this urge and cram more sugar, the same process starts again.
Also, if you continue to indulge in sugary foods regularly, this can lead to severe sugar spikes and sugar crashes, leaving you feeling nervous, foggy, irritable, jittery, drained, and more anxious.
Sugar, Diabetes & Anxiety
Eating too much sugar can eventually result in insulin resistance. This is when your cells start to resist insulin and are unable to make use of glucose for energy. In this instance, the body responds by producing more insulin, which over time leads to high blood sugar.
Insulin resistance is the main characteristic of prediabetes and diabetes, and research has consistently shown that there’s a strong connection between diabetes and anxiety.
One study found that Americans with diabetes are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than those without diabetes.
Sugar, Kidney Disease & Anxiety
High blood sugar levels over time can cause damage to delicate blood vessels in the kidneys, increasing the risk of kidney disease.
Also, according to research, neuropsychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, and cognitive impairment are prevalent in patients with chronic kidney disease.
Sugar, Cortisol & Anxiety
Sugar consumption is one of the worst triggers for cortisol release, the primary stress hormone in the body.
Studies show that regular and high sugar intakes can keep your cortisol levels elevated.
Furthermore, too much cortisol in your bloodstream on an ongoing basis causes or exacerbates anxiety, and disrupts sleep.
How to Cut Down on Sugar?
The following list comprises of 11 simple steps on how to cut down on sugar.
1. Adopt Healthy Eating
So, the best way to cut down on refined sugar is to eat a healthy diet based on natural whole foods. The more natural whole foods you consume, the less room you’ll leave for processed foods, automatically cutting down on refined sugar!
Whole foods are full of beneficial nutrients required for mental and physical health.
Natural whole foods include
Processed foods are packaged foods with a list of ingredients. For example, cakes, chocolate, desserts, ice cream, puddings, flavored yogurts, ketchup, salad dressings and so on.
2. Always Read the Label
When you buy processed foods always make sure you read the label.
Here are a few tips to help you:
3. Avoid Foods with a Long Shelf-life
Manufacturers refine foods and add preservatives and additives to extend shelf-life so make sure you avoid processed foods with a long shelf-life.
And just to remind you, processed foods are those with a list of ingredients.
While whole grains and legumes have a longer shelf life, they don’t have an ingredients list, or if they do it only lists that one item!
4. Avoid Sugary Drinks and Desserts
When you are cutting down on sugar, avoiding sugary drinks and sugary foods is a must!
The most common examples of sugary drinks include sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, and fruit-flavored water.
But even the so-called ‘healthy’ drinks, such as smoothies and fruit juices, can contain added sugar, so make sure you read the label!
Popular desserts to avoid – cakes, pies, pastries, chocolate, candy, maple syrup, processed honey, puddings, creams, ice-cream, and similar.
What’s the alternative?
Water and herbal tea made from organic lose leaf are the best anti-anxiety drinks.
And if you want something sweet, choose fruit.
Fruit will nourish your cells with vital nutrients, helping you to feel energized and satisfied.
5. Avoid Refined Starches
Refined starches are heavily processed and low in nutrients, and should therefore be avoided. They are also likely to impact your blood sugar levels causing sudden spikes and drops in blood sugar.
Common examples include white flour, white pasta, bread, pizza, sandwiches, and similar.
Aim to swap the above foods with whole grains and legumes such as brown rice, millet, buckwheat, polenta, spelt, barley, lentils, beans, and etc.
6. Avoid Sauces and Dressings
Clear your kitchen cupboard from sauces and dressings.
You might be surprised but sauces such as apple, barbeque, and ketchup, are often loaded with added sugar, and this is why they are best avoided.
To make your food tastier, use fresh or dried herbs, and cold-pressed unrefined oils.
7. Avoid Low-Fat Products
Low-fat products are more refined than their full-fat versions. They contain less fat but more of everything else, including added sugar!
Choose foods as close to their natural form as possible.
8. Avoid Canned Foods
Canned food should be avoided because of its packaging, which often contains a chemical called BPA (bisphenol-A).
According to research, BPA has shown to migrate from the can to the contents during processing and storage.
This is a problem because exposure to BPA has been linked to several medical disorders including anxiety and depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and male sexual dysfunction.
That’s why its best to choose fresh foods instead.
9. Double Check the So-Called Healthy Foods
As more people are trying to eat healthier, manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon and producing lots of different food products that are meant to be good for your health.
Good examples of these foods are breakfast bars, breakfast cereals, fruit yogurts, dietary supplements, smoothies, juices, and similar.
But I’d be wary of all foods with a list of ingredients. These so-called healthy foods and drinks can contain hidden sugars, so make sure you check the label.
And remember, if you want to be healthier, then eat more vegetables and whole grains. That’s the stuff that we are often missing on our plates!
10. Avoid Buying Refined Foods for Your Home
The best way to deal with your sugar cravings is to avoid buying sugary foods for your home.
Here are a few tips
11. Avoid Food Shopping When Hungry
When you’re hungry, your blood sugar levels are low and so you are likely to choose foods that affect blood sugar quickly. These are usually foods high in sugar and fat.
That’s why its best to shop when you are full!
Latest posts by Sandra Glavan, Life Coach for Gentle Anxiety Sufferers (see all)
- How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (and Why)? - 15th November 2022
- Why taking baby steps is the key to achieving healing? - 27th October 2022
- Social Anxiety at its Worst & 4 Steps to Overcoming it? - 23rd December 2021