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Our kids love sugar. When they have an ice cream cone, a piece of candy, or slice of birthday cake, they sure seem like they are on top of the world. We have been warned by health professionals for years that added sugar can lead to health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, allergies, and even anxiety. Now a recent study looks at how sugar may actually make us sad and depressed.
What Experts Found
Experts explored the relationship between sugar and depression because they were seeing a trend of rising sugar intake along with increased cases of mental disorders throughout the world. Americans, for example, are consuming three times the amount of added sugars recommended by the World Health Organization (this does not include sugars found naturally in fruit, vegetables, and milk).
In the study, researchers used sugar intake from sweet food and drinks to predict mood disorders in participants. They tracked the diets and medical conditions of 8,000 people over 22 years using surveys about their diet and information from their doctors’ visits. Reviewing what they ate and the types of medical conditions they were treated for helped the researchers to deduce any connection between sugar intake and mental health. They found that patients without a mood disorder who consumed over 67 grams of sugar per day had a 23 percent increased risk of suffering from a mood disorder within a five-year period than those who ate 40 grams or less.
It is important to understand how much 67 grams of sugar is–about six donuts or three chocolate bars. So, that is quite a bit of sugar for one person! It is also 25 percent higher than the daily recommendation. According to the American Heart Association, children ages 2 to 18 should not eat or drink more than 25 grams of added sugar daily, which is about six teaspoons. Check out their nifty infographic.
The researchers then looked at whether having a mood disorder would make people more apt to choose sweets. They found no evidence of a reverse effect in which participants upped their sugar intake after suffering from a mood disorder. So people were not just eating more sugar because they were bummed out.
Other recent studies have explored whether sugar causes depression. A 2002 study from the journal Depression and Anxiety found that higher rates of refined sugar consumption were associated with higher rates of depression in the six countries explored. In a 2014 study, researchers found that sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks could increase one’s risk of feeling depressed. Finally, in 2015 a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found greater chances of depression in people who consume a high level of added sugar, but not in those with a high intake of naturally occurring sugars.
Although the medical community isn’t quite read to conclude that sugar causes depression, these multiple studies certainly raise concern.
What You Can Do
The best advice is to stick to the sugar intake recommendations and to be mindful of the amount of sugar your children are consuming on a daily basis. The tricky part is that sugar can sneak up on us. It is added in foods you would never dream of. Be sure to check the nutrition labels of bread, yogurt, cereal, salad dressing, ketchup, salty snacks, smoothies, and granola bars. Also be very careful with drinks. About a third of our sugar consumption comes from beverages. Juices, soda, and even energy drinks are packed with added sugar. Before you know it, your kids could be consuming that 67 gram mark!
Also, if your child is experiencing symptoms of depression like persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness, withdrawing from activities, or crying often, please seek professional help from a place like Betterhelp.
Have you noticed your child feeling sad after consuming sugar?