Sugar has (rightfully) earned itself a bad reputation. It’s packed with empty calories, it causes weight gain, and it happens to be as addictive as many drugs. It’s no wonder many nutrition experts recommend quitting sugar! But if those reasons aren’t enough for you, you might be interested to learn that sugar is also implicated in many mental health conditions.

We now know that whatever happens in your gut will also affect your brain. In the case of sugar, an inflammatory response throughout your body – which is exactly what happens when you eat too much sugar – translates into inflammation in the brain as well. And that inflammation affects the way our neurotransmitters work, leading to problems like anxiety and depression. Recent research from the University of Basel in Switzerland even links sugar to bipolar disorder!

In order to quit sugar (or at least cut way back on it), you essentially have to give up all processed foods. Having done that, you will find that you’re eating more “real” foods – fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, lean meats, and so on. Now, you’ve not only decreased your consumption of harmful foods; you’ve increased your consumption of “good” foods too. Here’s what research has to say about that:

  • According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a healthy, low-sugar diet corresponds to lower levels of anxiety
  • Fermented foods (containing pro-biotics) might reduce social anxiety
  • Anxiety triggers cortisol production, which impairs your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, iron, magnesium, and omega-3 fats – coincidentally the same ones that help to regulate brain health

Sugar and emotional health issues appear to be intimately related. More stress might lead you to indulge in more sugar, and more sugar leads to more anxiety! Breaking the cycle can help your brain heal, lead to fewer sugar cravings, and improve both emotional and physical health in the long term.

Start by turning down dessert, avoiding vending machines, and substituting healthier foods instead. Once you master that, begin removing sugar from items like coffee, and start reading food labels. Gradually cut back on sugar, and replace processed foods with healthier options. Quitting sugar works very similarly to beating any other addiction. It takes time and patience, but the rewards are well worth it.