BY CHRISTA SGOBBA
The sweet stuff might be turning your mood sour: Men who eat more sugar are more likely to develop a mood disorder, research from University College London found.
In the study, researchers analysed food consumption data from over 7,000 people and followed them up for 22 years to see how many developed a mood disorder like depression or anxiety during that time. They discovered that men who took in the most sugar from sweet foods and beverages—67 grams (g) or more a day—were 23 percent more likely to develop a mental health condition than those who took in less than 39.5 g.
Current U.S. guidelines recommend you limit your added sugar intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories. But only 42 percent of Americans are meeting that guideline, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. For those over that benchmark? They consume an average of 105 g of added sugar a day—well above the highest quartile in the study.
Big problem: There are a bunch of ways sugar can mess with your mind. For one, high sugar intake could reduce your levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps the growth and development of your brain cells. It may also spark inflammation, which has been linked to a depressed mood. High-sugar diets can also mess with your insulin response after eating, which can tank your hormones and your mood.
This study falls in line with previous research that has linked sugar to mood problems, but took them one step further. That’s because this study accounted for something called reverse causation—which, in this instance, refers to the possibility that people who have mood disorders may simply be more likely to choose high-sugar foods. But the current research took this into account, and was able to exclude that as a possibility.
“There are numerous factors that influence chances for mood disorders, but having a diet high in sugary foods and drinks might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” study author Anika Knüppel, Ph.D. (c).
It’s not clear from the study whether reducing your sugar consumption can help improve symptoms of a poor mood—and if you are suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, a doctor visit should probably be your first course of action now.
But if you want to guard against a mood problem, it can’t hurt to limit your added sugar now. Shoot to hit the dietary guideline max of no more than 10 percent of your calories a day—so no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams, from the added stuff.