This blog was originally published on August 5, 2019, and it is updated and republished on August 12, 2020.
Sugar is a delicious and convenient item we sometimes choose when we need a mood or energy lift—especially in the afternoons. And, at the moment, right after we enjoy a sugary snack or drink, we seem to feel a bit better. But it doesn’t last long and is inevitably followed by the infamous “blood sugar crash.” This is when you feel even more sluggish and unproductive than you did before you had the sugary treat. Top sources of sugar are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, cereal, baked goods, candy, and processed food. Can sugar really improve your mood and energy? More importantly, when you need a boost, what are the best things to eat and drink to avoid “crashing?”
Sugar For Your Mood?
We seem to feel a bit more light-hearted after a sugary snack. Or do we? Researchers have studied the effects that sugar has on our moods. Overall, there have been many mixed results. This recently led a team to put these conflicting studies together and see what the overall big picture says. After analyzing 31 studies, they published their somewhat surprising findings.[Ref 1] They found that eating or drinking sugary items did not improve any aspect of mood at any time-point afterward. That’s right—objectively, we don’t feel any happier after we consume sugar.
Other researchers say, “the evidence to date does not support the specific subjective mood-enhancing effects of glucose [sugar] intake.”[Ref 2] These studies looked at the short-term effects of sugar on moods, but what about in the longer-term? When it comes to long-term mood, a review of 10 studies found that regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like soda increases the risk of depression.[Ref 3] Yes, it makes you feel even worse. Overall, there isn’t much hard evidence that sugar is the mood-booster we think (and maybe want) it to be; and it can even crash our moods.
Sugar for Energy?
What about sugar’s ability to reduce fatigue and give us mental energy? One study looked at the effect sugar had on people’s ability to concentrate, remember things, and answer test questions.[Ref 4] They thought sugar would give the test-goers energy and alertness. However, the results showed no improvement. Another study showed that sugar’s ability to improve mood only worked when people were told they were consuming sugar.[Ref 5] These show that sugar doesn’t seem to give us the mental energy we think it does. But, does it crash our mental energy? This recent study says, yes. Researchers found that within 30-minutes after consuming sugar people felt even more fatigue. Within 30 more minutes, they were even less alert.[Ref 1] As you can see, sugar crashes not only our moods but also our energy.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
Added processed sugar is damaging, and exacerbates diabetes. Not only does it spike blood sugar, but it impacts blood vessels and accelerates heart disease. A study in 2014 showed that high-sugar diets increase the risk of death from heart disease.
How much sugar is the daily limit? The World Health Organization recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for adults. Just remember to read food labels for hidden added sugars in the products you buy.
Avoid Blood Sugar Crashes with These Foods
There are many delicious and healthy foods that boost your energy. These invigorating foods are full of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and won’t give you a blood sugar crash. For example:
- Berries, including strawberries (for your heart, blood sugar, and anti-aging effects)
- Leafy greens (for your arteries, eyes, and muscles)
- Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas) help slim your waist and protect you from diabetes
A quick and easy way to begin improving your nutrition is to start incorporating berries, greens, and legumes into your meals. Try having a leafy salad for lunch or dinner (greens topped with berries or legumes), add fresh or frozen berries to your breakfast oatmeal, include legumes with dinner, or even blend fresh or frozen berries and greens together with almond or soy milk for a delicious smoothie. With these healthy options, you will feel better throughout the day and avoid the unpleasant feeling that occurs with a blood sugar crash.
If you’re experiencing diabetes and want educational information that helps you take back control of your health, Join our FREE Facebook Group, Natural Solutions for Diabetes. Learn how to create eating and lifestyle habits to naturally stabilize your blood sugar and heal yourself.
Also, be sure to get your free copy of the Guide for practical steps that help you start balancing your blood sugar naturally. It’s time to get the empowering information you need so that you get started with your healthier lifestyle.
Ref 1. Mantantzis K, Schlaghecken F, Sünram-Lea SI, Maylor EA. Sugar rush or sugar crash? A meta-analysis of carbohydrate effects on mood. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2019;101:45-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.016
Ref 2. Bernard BN, Louise LC, Louise D. The Effects of Carbohydrates, in Isolation and Combined with Caffeine, on Cognitive Performance and Mood-Current Evidence and Future Directions. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):192. Published 2018 Feb 9. doi:10.3390/nu10020192
Ref 3. Hu D, Cheng L, Jiang W. Sugar-sweetened beverages consumption and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019;245:348-355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.11.015
Ref 4. Ullrich S, de Vries YC, Kühn S, Repantis D, Dresler M, Ohla K. Feeling smart: Effects of caffeine and glucose on cognition, mood and self-judgment. Physiol Behav. 2015;151:629-37. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.08.028.
Ref 5. Green MW, Taylor MA, Elliman NA, Rhodes O. Placebo expectancy effects in the relationship between glucose and cognition. Br J Nutr. 2001;86(2):173-9.
Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
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