Sugar and depression – why it can really wreck your mood

Reducing my sugar consumption was the first and one the most significant steps in overcoming depression naturally. Sugar and depression are very much linked. Read on to find out why!
Sugar and Depression

Reducing the amount of sugar in my diet was the very first thing I did after discovering that you can overcome depression naturally. I really can’t overrate the incredible effect this step alone had in lifting and stabilising my mood. 

But what does sugar have to do with your mood? Read on to find out! 

the link between sugar and depression

Sugar, the sweet yummy stuff that keeps us coming back for more. I don’t know about you but I never questioned whether sugar might be bad for you, well apart from your teeth perhaps. It was just completely normal for me to start the day with sugary cereals, drink juice or fizzy drinks all day, and to have sugary snacks and desserts such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, ice creams or chocolate on a daily basis. Yes, I also had lots of healthy meals but it really didn’t occur to me that all this sugar might be bad for me – not just in the long run but actually right now.

Sugar is everywhere, right? Really everywhere. Whole aisles in supermarkets are dedicated to it. We like the sweet taste and crave it, are even addicted to it

And when you’re suffering from depression, as I did in my early twenties, sugar is often your major source of comfort. You’re feeling low, lack motivation and grab something out of a packet that satisfies your craving. Before you know it, you’ve eaten all the biscuits. Do they make you feel better? Well, perhaps a little right whilst you’re eating them but longterm? No. 

It’s a vicious cycle: You feel low, so you eat poorly and choose lots of sugary foods. But it’s those sugary foods in turn that also keep you feeling low. 

There are quite a few studies now that have confirmed the damaging effect of sugar on your health, including your mental health!

For example, researchers have found that eating high amounts of fructose during your teenage years can worsen depressive and anxiety-like behaviour. It can even change how your brain responds to stress! (Fructose is the natural sugar in fruit but is also found in processed foods as an added sugar.) 

Another study on over 3000 people has found that you are at an increased risk of developing depression if you follow a typical Western diet with high amounts of fried foods, sugar and salt, than if ate a whole food type diet with lots of veg, fruit and fish. 


What happens when you eat sugar

Have you ever experienced the sugar crash after you’ve eaten something high in sugar, say if you’ve eaten a donut or drank a glass of Coca-Cola?

Well, it’s high in sugar so causes your blood sugar levels to spike, and then shortly after to plummet. Why plummet? Because your body doesn’t want to have all this excess sugar in your bloodstream, so sends out insulin to move it out from there and into your cells. 


blood sugar crash rollercoaster

So you’re blood sugar levels peak and drop. And when they drop, or “crash”, you can end up feeling moody, tired, brain-fogged, anxious or depressed. 

It is so powerful! 

When you’re depressed it can really feel like nothing makes a difference. But here we have at least one: Reduce the sugar in your diet.

Am I saying that you’re only depressed because of the sugar in your diet? Absolutely not! Depression often has multiple causes, but reducing those blood sugar crashes is one of the biggest steps you can take to improve your mental health naturally. 

So where's the sugar in your diet?

Some foods raise your blood sugar very quickly so you’d ideally reduce them as much as possible and not make them staples of your everyday diet.

  • Table sugar and many other sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and high-fructose-corn-syrup (think processed foods)
  • Cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets
  • Ketchup, chutneys and other ready-made sauces
  • White bread, white pasta, white rice 
  • Juices and soft drinks
  • Canned and dried fruit
  • Ice cream and many flavoured yoghurts
  • Sugary breakfast cereals and cereal bars

So if you’d like to try and reduce your sugar consumption in order to feel better mentally, just try reducing some of those high sugar foods if you find them in your diet a lot. 

Avoiding those blood sugar crashes can make an enormous difference to your mood as well as any physical symptoms you might be experiencing. It made me feel so much better and really set me up for success. It’s not always easy, but so worth doing. 

Hello, I'm Claudia

I’m Claudia Smith, a qualified nutritional therapist, functional medicine practitioner and coach specialising in depression. This is where I share my thoughts and advice on natural and holistic approaches to overcoming depression.

Download my free guide: 15 ways to overcome depression naturally