Most people know that too much sugar is bad for your physical health, but it’s not as well-known that sugar can also affect your mood.
It’s easy to turn to sugary foods for comfort or a quick burst of energy, but it could negatively impact your health in the long run. Read the guide below to understand why it affects your mood, what constitutes too much or too little sugar in your diet, and a few better snack alternatives to fight sugary cravings.
Why sugar affects mood
Have you ever experienced the crash after a sugar rush? Not all sugars are created equal. Processed sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar), are simple carbohydrates your body can burn through quickly. Once you’ve burned through the sugar molecules, your body fights to find another quick energy source to keep it going. It can feel like you’re buzzing with energy one minute and wanting to nap the next. These simple sugars create unstable blood sugar that can cause irritability, insomnia, and trouble focusing.
Not only do simple sugars cause negative short-term affects, but studies also show that high sugar consumption over time can impact your mental health. There are links between increased feelings of depression and a high level of daily sugar intake. However, not all sugar is bad for you to eat! Your body produces natural sugar, also known as glucose, which it needs to sustain bodily functions. You absolutely need sugar to sustain your bodily functions.
Eating complex carbohydrates allows your body to burn off the sugars over a longer period. The sugars found in foods like fruits, veggies, and honey are longer chains of glucose that your body burns through slower than the short chains of molecules mentioned previously. Therefore, you might not feel an immediate burst of energy after eating an apple, but you will feel the long-term effects of stable blood sugar: less cravings, stabilized mood, and motivation to complete your work.
Recommendations for sugar intake
Guidelines for how much sugar you should consume every day can vary depending on your activity level, age, and any preexisting health conditions. However, there are general recommendations given by both the American Heart Association and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans that say added sugars should make up less than ten percent of your total daily calorie intake. With the general recommended intake of 2,000 calories per day, that’s 200 calories or less of added sugar. When you’re shopping, look for the term “added sugar” on food labels, and avoid it when possible.
Foods to fight sugary cravings
If you find that you frequently crave chocolate, ice cream, and bread cravings happen often, it may be because you’ve trained your body to rely on those foods as your primary energy source. There are also added sugars in unexpected foods like ketchup, which has a whopping 4 grams of added sugar per tablespoon. And considering most people use at least 3–4 tablespoons of ketchup in a sitting, the calories can add up quickly.
It takes time to eliminate the feeling of wanting comfort snacks, but these alternatives can help you train your body to use better forms of sugar for fuel. Here are some alternatives you can easily implement into your diet:
- Unsweetened almond milk instead of traditional coffee creamer
- Fruit-infused water instead of soda or juice
- Plain rolled oats instead of a sugary breakfast cereal
- Homemade frozen fruit “nice cream” instead of ice cream
- Peanut butter on whole wheat toast instead of store-bought peanut butter crackers
You shouldn’t restrict yourself completely, but if you strive to consciously make the right choices and swaps it will be easier than you think to reduce the risk of overeating processed sugars.