Does sugar improve or worsen anxiety? Discover the relationship

In those moments of agitation or nervousness, it is quite common to resort to food, especially sweets. But does sugar help us fight anxiety ?

Science has been trying to prove that it isn’t.

A study published in Case Reports in Psychiatry in 2016 showed that high consumption of foods with a high glycemic index (refined sugar, soft drinks, etc.) increases the chances of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression .

Another survey, carried out by Emory University in the USA, came to a similar conclusion. According to the researchers, a diet rich in fructose (the type of sugar used in many industrialized products ) can aggravate the depressive and anxious behavior of teenagers, in addition to changing the way they react to stress .

In short: for studies,  the villain of the story is excess sugar . And the danger is even greater when the sugar is of the fructose type, common to be found in fruits.

But then does that mean that I should stop eating fruits and sugary foods? No!

For research, when this sugar (fructose) is in fruits, it helps the body, as it is in its “natural form” and added to other nutrients. But when it is extracted and added to industrialized products, it is harmful.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there has been a 250% increase in the consumption of fructose in industrialized foods in developed countries in the last 20 years, which is not good for health.

Also read:  Know the dangers of excess sodium in the diet


The effects of sugar on the body

It is not just sweet foods that contain sugar, as it is one of the types of carbohydrates .

Carbohydrates, lipids and proteins , when ingested, signal to the pancreas the production of insulin, a hormone that helps glucose to pass into the cells, transforming it into a source of energy for the whole body.

That is, glucose is important for the proper functioning of the body.

Although essential for activities, consumption should be based on a balanced diet.

Too much sugar, at first, makes the body need to release more insulin to avoid altering blood glucose. With the hormone circulating in the blood, the glucose stores are depleted and there may be a glycemic drop.

This results in a feeling of hunger quickly – which is why eating fast food does not satiate for long.

In addition, those symptoms of irritation or discomfort due to hypoglycemia can also appear.

So the desire is to eat again. And if the next snack is also very sugary, the cycle starts over.

In the long run, the effects of this poor diet can cause greater damage to the body. Although eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes , eating so-called “bullshit” usually means high calorie intake as well.

That is, too much sugar, irregular eating habits and physical inactivity are risk factors for weight gain.

With a few more numbers on the scale, there are the risks of type 2 diabetes.

Sugar and brain: does candy take away anxiety?

The brain also needs glucose to function, but when insulin activities are impaired, its function can be impaired.

When you consume too much sugar, blood glucose levels will rise rapidly, making you feel full. But, after this peak of energy, the tendency is for a sudden drop in sugar in the body due to the release of insulin.

These oscillations can bring on a feeling of tiredness , irritability, tremors and dizziness , common in hypoglycemia.

The drop in blood glucose makes the body need to look for other sources of energy, since there is no more glucose available. To do this, it  ends up producing adrenaline (a hormone that keeps the body alert), a hormone that participates in the transformation of glycogen into an energy source.

According to studies, this hormonal release, then, can worsen symptoms or symptoms of anxiety.

The specialist in endocrinology and metabolism, Dr. Daniele Zaninelli, highlights yet another problem:

According to her, the feeling of weakness after the drop in blood sugar levels ends up leading to the consumption of more sweets, to try to renew the energies, thus creating a bad vicious cycle for the body.

” The consumption of sweets can even bring a momentary relief from anxiety (reward system), but maintaining the vicious cycle of consuming sugar to numb emotions will only worsen the symptoms of sadness, tiredness and frustration “, he comments.

Therefore, based on the studies, the consumption of sugar, especially those found in industrialized products, needs to be moderate in order not to generate mood changes.

Sugars are important for the functioning of our body, but it is necessary to consume them with caution.

Understand the differences between sugars

Sugar is a carbohydrate that can be simple (monosaccharides) or complex (disaccharides). Understanding your differences is critical to making healthier choices.

Simple (monosaccharides)

Simple carbohydrates are those that are quickly digested by the body. That is, they are precisely the ones that generate insulin spikes and that are related to the symptoms of anxiety. Get to know:


Fructose, also called levulose, can be found naturally in fruits, honey, cereals and cane sugar. It is used by the food industries in the manufacture of sweets, juices, soft drinks, preserved or dehydrated fruits and processed products.

This sugar is considerably cheaper than the others, as it is a natural sweetener and does not need to be refined.

The problem is its excessive use in processed foods and beverages.

This can result in the consumption of large portions of nutrient-poor foods instead of more nutritious and lower calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables (rich in fiber and micronutrients).

The best way to consume fructose is to eat a fruit , which contains other important vitamins and nutrients.

In fruits, fructose-type sugar is also combined with fiber. This causes absorption by the intestine to be slower and the glycemic peak does not occur.


Known for also being the result of photosynthesis in vegetables, glucose is one of the most important sugars for our health. It can be found in corn, rice, potatoes , cassava and pasta.

When we consume foods that contain glucose, it is directed to the bloodstream and transformed into a source of energy, becoming fuel for the body.

Complexes (disaccharides)

Unlike simple carbohydrates, complexes allow for slower, more gradual digestion. In this way, they prevent sugar levels from rising too quickly and thus prevent large insulin releases. Get to know:


Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products, in addition to being used in the manufacture of foods such as sweets, breads, confectionery, etc. This type of sugar does not exist in vegetables.

After being ingested, the body relies on the help of the enzyme lactase for digestion to occur. In people with lactose intolerance, this process does not work properly, causing symptoms such as diarrhea , cramps and feeling sick.


This is the famous table sugar – the white sugar – used to sweeten juices, coffees, cakes, among others. Found in sugar cane, after undergoing changes, it crystallizes as a result of the condensation of glucose and fructose.

The product has a high glycemic index and a high number of calories, requiring control of its consumption.


Maltose is obtained in industrial processes, in which grains such as corn and barley are fermented.

After all, what is the healthiest choice?

Today, it is possible to find, in markets and stores, several options to use in the diet. In general, there is no way to determine the best choice.

Every nutritional indication, food exchange or change in the meal must be evaluated by a nutritionist so that the needs of the body are considered.

Among the most common sugar options are:

Brown sugar

Known for its brown color, this type of sugar has this shade because it has not undergone chemical refinement processes, as occurs with white sugar.

Some sugar cane molasses is preserved in its composition (from where it is extracted after the cooking of the sugarcane juice). Therefore, its flavor is stronger.

This sugar is known for its vitamins and minerals in its composition, such as: potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, B1, C and E.

Organic sugar

Organic sugar has the advantage that, since its manufacture, no artificial ingredients have been used. The planting of the cane used to extract the organic sugar is done without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, being a totally organic process.

This sugar has a color that resembles caramel and its grain is thicker. The reason for the color is because the food does not go through refinement processes, as is the case with crystal sugar.

In its composition there are amino acids, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that help the body.

Raw sugar

Similar to brown sugar, demerara-type sugar undergoes a slight refinement. Its differential is the fact that it does not alter the taste of the food as much as the brown one.

Light brown in color, demerara sugar is widely used in the production of sophisticated sweets.

It contains vitamins B1, B2, B6 in addition to minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus, calcium and potassium. As it does not undergo so many refinement processes, the product is, in general, considered a healthier option than white sugar.


Honey is a type of sugar extracted from flower nectar, which contains B vitamins and minerals.

Due to nutrients, honey can strengthen the immune system and strengthen the body.

Despite this, the consumption of honey requires caution because of the calories. The proportions are the same as those found in white sugar, so care must be taken not to overdo it.

Watch out for artificial sweeteners!

But with all this information involving sugar and anxiety, is it better to opt for artificial sweeteners? Not always.

The American Heart Association (AHA) and Diabetes Association (ADA) conducted research on the use of artificial sweeteners to replace sugar and the results were surprising.

Also read: Diet soda can cause serious complication of diabetes

It was shown that, among the participants, those who used artificial sweeteners were twice as likely to have obesity compared to people who do not use them.

That is, the research indicated that sweeteners can lead to weight gain.

The journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism also conducted a study on artificial sweeteners and found that they can act on our hormones increasing the desire for sugary foods, causing obesity and later problems with diabetes and heart related diseases.

However, these relationships are quite complex and not always so clear.

Therefore, other studies go in the opposite direction and point out that opting for sweeteners does not pose greater risks to health or balance when compared to the consumption of sugars.

The important thing is to consume in moderation. This means that there is no rule and the expert’s recommendation is always valid.

Excessive sugar can harm the body and cause anxiety and stress, so it is important to consume it in a moderate way.

Share and comment on this article with your friends and family so they know about the dangers of sugar in relation to mental health .