If the holidays are getting you down about now, what you’re eating could be part of the problem. The common ingredient in most holiday foods — sugar — could be bringing on the blues, suggests a new study.
Not only are there fewer hours of sunlight this time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the lack of sun can affect our sleep patterns and contribute to seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression. This is likely to prompt us to eat more sweets in an effort to cheer ourselves up.
Taken together, these seasonal conditions can create a perfect storm for the onset of the depression this time of year, according to researchers at the University of Kansas. They found that if we also eat a lot of cookies, cakes, other carbohydrates and sugary foods they trigger metabolic, inflammatory and neurobiological processes linked to depression.
Inflammation was found to be the most important physiological effect of added sugars related to mental health.
“When we consume sweets, they act like a drug,” explained Ilardi, in a statement. “They have an immediate mood-elevating effect, but in high doses they can also have a paradoxical, pernicious longer-term consequence of making mood worse, reducing well-being, elevating inflammation and causing weight gain.”
The team of clinical psychologists analyzed several previous studies on the physiological and psychological effects of eating sugary foods, using diet information gleaned from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, and several other studies.
Inflammation was the most important physiological effect of added sugars related to mental health. Depression is a disease of systemic inflammation for about half of people who suffer from it.
It is the holiday season, so decide ahead of time which sweets say celebration most to you, and then treat yourself to small portions.
Women should eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day — the equivalent of six teaspoons, according to American Heart Association recommendations. For men the number is 38 grams or nine teaspoons a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars. For a person eating 2,000 calories a day that is about 50 grams or 12 teaspoons.
Either way, since one can of soda contains eight teaspoons of sugar, it’s probably far less than most of us are eating daily over the holidays.
The study is published in Medical Hypotheses.