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Sugar and Mental Health

The data on dessert and depression is different than you might think.


Try watching any romantic comedy without coming across this scene:
The camera pans to the protagonist in sweatpants, weeping into a pint of ice cream, flanked on either side by sleeves of Oreos. The theater audience knows this is their cue to shake their heads and chuckle empathetically. Even if you’ve never personally turned to cupcakes as a coping mechanism, it’s generally accepted that sadness can make you crave sweets.

Research suggests that this might be a totally backwards way to look at the relationship between sugar and mental health.

In the first long-term study of its kind, researchers from University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health found that high sugar consumption increased the likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, and other common mental health problems in men by a hefty 23 percent after five years.

You read that right – after five years. We’re not talking about an energy dip or some short-term guilt and negativity.

There’s still plenty we don’t know about the direct mechanism that links sugar intake and mental health. But it seems likely that a spoonful of sugar makes the mood go down, in a pretty distressing way.

To start unpacking at least one part of the mystery, researchers set out to solve the chicken or egg problem: That is, were the subjects eating more sugar to cope with poor mental health, or was their sugar intake actually contributing to a future decline in mental health?

After combing data spanning more than two decades, researchers found that the long term negative effects were unrelated to the subject’s mental health at the beginning of the study. Even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, other dietary factors, and the presence of other health problems, the findings held true. Sugar consumption continued to show a link to future mental health problems. 

Right now, it’s en vogue to talk about longevity science and nutrition in terms of physical performance. Who doesn’t want to be climbing mountains and blazing new bike trails well into old age? But if your mental health is subpar, it’s less likely that you’ll make it out the door at all, much less achieve any physical feats.

After all, major depression is predicted to become the leading cause of disability in high income countries by 2030.

But we don’t need to give up, curse our collective fate, and grab a piece of cake. We can take action to pre-empt this prediction. At The Good Kitchen, we’ve got your back when it comes to designing a diet that supports long term, well-rounded health for your body and your mind.

By tossing added sugars aside and leaning into satisfying, flavorful, healthful meals, we’re doing our part to help you sidestep diet-related depression without settling for deprivation.

Check out our latest meals to see how good long-term health looks!


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Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash


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