There’s A Mental Health Reason To Avoid Added Sugar

When we think about the link between food and feelings, it usually goes something like this: We feel sad, and then we eat something — usually a comforting gut bomb of sugar, salt and fat — to feel better. But what if this relationship were actually reversed? What if the things we ate were actually causing us to become more depressed over time, creating a destructive loop of sadness, bingeing, and sadness again?

That’s the premise of a recent study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that suggests sugary and starchy foods could contributing to depression. Previous long-term studies have shown that people who eat pastries, sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates have a higher risk of depression, but didn’t determine what is it, exactly, about those foods that ties them to depression risk.

The Setup

Columbia University psychiatry professor James Gangwisch wanted to find out, and to parse out the different effects that varying amounts of carbohydrates and added sugar have on mood. To do so, he looked back at data from nearly 70,000 postmenopausal women who participated in a research project in 1994 and then again in 1998.

Gangswisch and his team looked at both the quality and quantity of the carbs in the women’s diets, applying glycemic index scores — a scale from zero to 100 that measures how a food raises a person’s blood sugar level — to what each woman was eating. (A food like steel-cut oatmeal, with a GI score of 55 or less, raises blood sugar levels less than instant oatmeal, which has a GI score of 70 or more.) They also calculated each woman’s glycemic load, or the amount of carbs she was eating, to understand whether or not that had any link to her level of depression. —> Read More