When the days get shorter and temperatures get colder, many of us start to feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder. Many of us start to feel more tired and run down during the winter months, and about 5% of Americans are affected by diagnosable seasonal depression. winter blues. Dark mornings and early sunsets mean we’re getting less vitamin D and fresh air, leaving many feeling tired, low energy, hungry, or unable to sleep.
Interestingly, there’s also a link between what you eat and how much your mood is affected by the winter blues. Seasonal depression can cause many of us to reach for comfort food; it’s the perfect time of year to indulge in sweet treats. Just consider substituting some of that artificial stuff – which can make you feel worse – with a better-for-you alternative. Here’s what you need to know about the effects of processed sugar on your mood.
Sugar and depression
Spreading holiday cheer often revolves around sharing sweet treats – candy canes, Christmas cookies, egg nog and hot chocolate. In fact, shorter days lead to changes in our sleep patterns, which can then cause sugar and carb cravings. However, while all that artificial sugar might taste good in the moment, it can have an overall negative impact on your mood, found one study.
“According to a new study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, a team of clinical psychologists discovered that eating added sugars can actually cause depression symptoms to be worse”.
“‘Alcohol is basically pure calories, pure energy, non-nutritive and super-toxic at high doses,’ an co-author of the study explained. “‘Sugars are very similar. We're learning when it comes to depression, people who optimize their diet should provide all the nutrients the brain needs and mostly avoid these potential toxins.’”
Crashing after a sugar high can also make seasonal depression feel even worse. Avoiding sugar doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in some of your favorite holiday recipes – luckily, there are plenty of better-for-you sugar alternatives, like stevia, with zero glycemic (meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar) and none of the chemicals used in artificial sugar.
Eat to beat the winter blues
Avoiding added sugar seems straightforward, but there’s lots of hidden sugar to watch out for, too. Sugar is present in many processed foods – though many consumers don’t realize it.
“A large study found women who consumed the most refined carbs, found in picks like white bread, white rice, and soda, had higher blood sugar levels and were at greater risk of depression (although not SAD specifically). Those with higher fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain intake had a lower incidence of depression,” reported Health.com.
Make sure you read the labels to watch out for things like high fructose corn syrup. Check the sugar content: The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar (six teaspoons) per day. Men should limit their consumption to 36 grams (nine teaspoons) per day.
Eating some foods that can actually help reduce the winter blues. Lean proteins, for instance, contain amino acids which are shown to positively affect your mood. Omega 3 and folic acid can also boost your mood and give you more energy to fight that tired feeling that comes from shorter days and cold weather. Try for a diet that includes many of these ingredients:
- Flax seeds and sunflower seeds
- Salmon and other fish
- Leafy greens
- Turkey and chicken
Whole grains are also a good way to keep your energy up without dosing your brain in sugar. And, don’t feel afraid to eat some sweet stuff! The high polyphenol content – antioxidants – in dark chocolate are a good way to boost your mood without overdoing the sugar. Plus, there are plenty of great recipes that swap stevia for sugar.
Better baking with stevia
Another simple way to reduce sugar is to choose stevia in your favorite holiday recipes. Pyure Organic Stevia is organic, non-GMO verified, zero glycemic, zero-calorie and free from any of the chemicals used to create artificial sweeteners. Try some of these classic holiday recipes that use stevia and other low-calorie sweet ingredients to satisfy your sweet tooth.