Depression is a subject that hits close to home, as I struggled with ADD and depression from the age of 10. When I was 18, I ditched the anti depressants and instead started focusing on my diet and lifestyle. And guess what? It worked!
(To find out more about how you, too can ditch your depressants click HERE.)
Today I am sharing a guest post from friend and colleague, Lauren Roerick. Her mission is to help people treat depression holistically with her online program, The UnDepression Project. In this article, Lauren shares with us the strong connection between sugar and our mood.
How Sugar Affects Your Mood
by Lauren Roerick
Have you ever had a sugar rush after eating too much candy at the movie theatre? Or perhaps experienced a food coma after Thanksgiving dinner? Have you ever found yourself getting “hangry” in between meals?
It’s starting to become common knowledge that food has an effect on our mood, but when we talk about depression or mental illness, food is rarely brought up as a possible contributing factor. Maybe it seems too obvious that for such a potentially debilitating illness, food could be part of the answer.
But when it comes to your mood, food is the best place to start.
Our bodies, and more specifically our brains, need food to function. But not just any food will keep our brains happy and healthy. Michael Pollan, author of several books on food and the American diet, including In Defense of Food, sums it up nicely: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants ”.
Christina Pirello , an authority on whole foods and nutrition, and host of television cooking show Christina Cooks, says that, “Americans have begun to live in a sort of paradox of health. Never before have we had more awareness of health and nutrition…We also live in a time when Americans have never been unhealthier. Heart disease remains the leading killer of men and women; diabetes is an epidemic affecting us at younger and younger ages. Obesity is completely out of control…[and] Cancer statistics are as terrifying as anything Stephen Kingcould dream up”.
Given this information, it is unsurprising that the acronym for the Standard American Diet spells the word SAD.
So what can we do about this? If we know that food can affect our mood and our mental health, how do we keep our brains healthy and our mood in tiptop shape?
Start with sugar!
When trying to improve your mood, I recommend starting with sugar, as it has a powerful effect on your state of happiness.
Sugar is a broad term for carbohydrates. Glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, and starch are all different names for sugar. There are over 50 different names for sugar, which can make it tough to recognize all the places where it can sneak into your diet.
How Sugar Works:
When we eat sugar, the taste buds on our tongue send signals to the brain that activate our reward system by triggering the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the same feel good chemical that is released in our brains when we’re out with friends, exercising, having sex, or even smoking a cigarette. Dopamine is also one of the neurotransmitters that can be notoriously low in people suffering from depression.
While eating sugar in small quantities is not such a big deal, we’re generally not eating small quantities. The World Health Organization recommends that we only get 5% of our calorie intake from sugar or about 25 grams or 5 teaspoons. But most of us are eating between 3 to 5 times that much! At 39 grams or nearly 8 teaspoons of sugar, a single 12 oz. can of soda puts us way over the daily limit.
When we eat too much processed, refined sugar our blood sugar levels spike far beyond a normal range, leading to that sugar rush feeling. The brain’s reward centers light up like a Christmas tree and we get a surge of that feel good neurotransmitter, dopamine.
But it doesn’t last.
This high is shortly followed by a crash, as insulin rushes in to level out your blood sugar level. This crash can leave you feeling cranky, tired, stressed, and even depressed, which leads you to crave more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.
To keep your dopamine circuits healthy and to avoid the postsugar blues, it would make sense to limit the amount of processed, refined sugars that you put into your body.
But where to begin?
1. Cut out sugary drinks .
These contain huge amounts of sugars, and are full of empty calories that do not leave us full or satisfied. It’s really easy for these drinks to interfere with your mood, as they’re packed with dangerous levels of sugar and caffeine.
When first cutting out sugary beverages, it’s easiest to make this transition slowly. Rather then going cold turkey, try substituting one or two of your daily sodas or juices for water or herbal tea.
Each day or week, see if you can substitute one more, until you’ve phased out sugary drinks for good. If you’re used to drinking a lot of soda or juice, this will help you avoid the headaches or fatigue that can happen when you try to cut it out too quickly.
2. Beware of hidden sugars.
There are over 50 names for sugar making it easy for it to sneak into places where we wouldn’t normally expect. Roughly 75% of packaged foods in the grocery store contain some form of added sugar, so it’s important to check the labels of the food you’re buying.
When reading labels, remember that the higher sugar is on the top of an ingredient list, the more of it there will be. So if you see sugar in the first three or four ingredients, it’s usually a sign that there’s too much.
Ideally, ditch foods that have added sugar, and stick to whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and organic, hormone free meat or fish.
Exercise boosts dopamine levels, so if you’re feeling a slump, instead of reaching for a candy bar, try going for a quick walk or doing some jumping jacks.
To start shifting your eating patterns to improve your moods, sugar is the best place to start. It’ll take a bit of practice and time, but in a couple of weeks you’ll start to notice the difference, leaving you feeling healthier and more vibrant. Actually, I bet you feel so amazing that you’ll never want to go back to sugar again.
Lauren Roerick is the creator of The Undepression Project and a certified holistic health coach specializing in depression recovery. She combines her expertise in nutrition, yoga, and depression recovery to provide you with a multifaceted approach to combatting depression.
Lauren struggled with depression in her early twenties, which led her to explore integrative treatments including yoga, meditation, nutrition, and cognitive behavioural therapy. After completing her thesis study on integrative depression treatment, she felt that this information wasn’t readily accessible in a neat complete package. This is why she’s created a powerful video course to teach what she’s learned and to help others make lasting changes in their own lives. For more information on the course, visit http://course.theundepressionproject.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter !