London - Having one of ‘those’ days? Grab a biscuit. Love life gone awry? Chocolate should help. Lonely or bored at home? Sit down with a glass of wine and a bowl of ice cream ...
Sound like you? You’re far from the only one. There’s nothing like stress to send many of us straight to the sweetie jar. In fact, over the last 50 years, our consumption of processed sugar has doubled. We each now consume a staggering 24 lbs of chocolate every year - and that’s before you factor in any other sweet treats.
However, new evidence suggests that far from being the stress reliever we assume it to be, sugar may actually cause us to be more panicked and wired.
And that’s not all. According to the charity Food For The Brain - a group of doctors, scientists, nutritionists, psychiatrists and psychologists promoting the link between food and mental health - there is a correlation between behavioural changes and blood sugar levels.
Deborah Colson, a nutritional therapist for the charity, says: ‘Poor blood sugar balance is often the single biggest factor in people suffering mood swings, depression, anxiety, and “emotionality” - where someone appears to be fine one minute then in floods of tears the next. Having big blood sugar swings lessens people’s ability to cope with stress.’
But is sugar really making us stressed? We investigate...
Why do some foods make you stressed?
‘Refined sugar and processed foods release sugar into the body too quickly,’ says James Duigan, A-List personal trainer and author of the Clean And Lean low-sugar diet. ‘This increases the amount of insulin, which convinces our bodies to store fat rather than burn it, and alters our blood sugar levels.
‘The more uneven our blood sugar levels; the more uneven our moods - we get hungry, angry, depressed and upset and can’t think clearly. Eating something high in sugar turns this back again - temporarily. But this soon gives way to a crash, when we feel panicky and wired.
‘The more your blood sugar levels fluctuate, the more likely you are to react badly to life’s stresses. And your reliance upon sugar becomes a trap.’
Is there a link with cortisol?
‘It’s no coincidence that desserts spelled backwards is stressed,’ says nutrition expert Dr Robert Lustig in his book Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar.
‘Cortisol (a hormone we release in response to stress) specifically increases our desire for comfort foods. Over several years, prolonged cortisol release leads to excessive intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods.’
Why do we turn to sugary foods?
‘Happiness isn’t only a sensory or emotional thing,’ says Dr Lustig. ‘It’s also affected by the body’s chemistry - namely serotonin. A deficiency causes serious clinical depression. One way to increase serotonin production is to eat more carbohydrates, especially sugar. Over time, however, more sugar is needed for the same effect, driving a vicious cycle.’
Sweet treats aren’t the only problem…
Glucose, or sugar, is also present in carbohydrate-dense and processed foods, especially those with a high GI, eg white bread and white rice.
Recent brain scans at the New Balance Obesity Prevention Foundation in Boston showed that these food-types can be addictive and stimulate cravings in much the same way as illicit drugs.
What happens when you give it up?
‘Every person reacts to sugar withdrawal differently,’ says Deborah Colson. ‘It depends on your general overall health and psychological factors.
‘Rather than making patients go cold turkey, the Food For The Brain charity tends to increase the good foods they should be eating. By doing it this way, we expect small improvements in a week, and big changes in three to four weeks.’
So what should you eat instead?
James Duigan recommends...
Berries: These are packed with vitamin C, which helps the body deal with stress. They’re also full of fibre, which helps regulate your blood sugar levels.
Dark green vegetables: To help replenish the body’s vitamins and minerals at times of stress.
Turkey: Contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid that releases the feel-good hormone serotonin.
Nuts: They boost battered immune systems and are full of B vitamins to help lower stress. No more than a small handful a day though. - Daily Mail