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The Impact of Sugar on Mental Health

If reducing your risk for heart disease and obesity weren’t reason enough to reign in your sugar addiction, combatting the impact of sugar on mental health might be your motivation. You might be surprised to learn that your sugar habit could be to blame for your unpredictable mood swings – in fact, the sweet stuff has even been linked to the development of chronic conditions like anxiety and depression. Here’s how.

To answer the question of how sugar affects mental health, we first have to dive into the gut microbiome – that’s where it all starts. The gut doesn’t just influence digestion and immunity, it also plays a major role in hormone regulation and mental health – there’s a reason they call it the “second brain”. The gut relies on the same neurotransmitters as our brain, and it’s why issues with your gut and an imbalanced microbiome can affect your mental health, with studies showing dysbiosis – the name for a dysregulated microbiome – increases our risk for disorders like anxiety and depression. 

How does sugar affect mental health?

Now let’s dive into what sugar does to the microbiome – diets high in the sweet stuff promote inflammation in the gut and they also lead to concerning changes to gut bacteria. One of the major problems with excess sugar consumption is that it can lower microbial diversity, according to research, which in turns lowers immunity and stimulates the growth harmful bacteria. In particular, studies have found a high-sugar diet causes higher levels of Proteobacteria, and this is a marker for dysbiosis.

Here’s where the effect on mental health comes in – an out of whack gut leaves has a knock-on effect with our hormones – and the research backs this concerning result. Studies have shown rates of depression are greater in those who eat a high-sugar diet, while another study shows anxiety is reported in higher numbers in people over 60 who consume sugar in excess. One study found people who drank 2 soft drinks a day had stress hormone levels 22% higher than those who did not, showing an undeniable link between mental health, the gut and sugar – from short-term symptoms like irritability and stress to more chronic illnesses that interfere with our lives. But with the average Aussie consuming 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day, there is reason for concern, especially considering our sky-high rates of mental health disorders.

A simple can of coke can pack 9 teaspoons of sugar, sending us past the daily limit of 6 teaspoons for women as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

What can you do to improve the gut microbiome?

One of the first steps to improve your gut health and, by extension, your mental health, is to cut down on inflammatory foods – and sugar ranks high on the list. You’ll also want to go easy on the alcohol and fried foods as these also tend to affect our gut microbiome. The goal is to tip the balance of gut microbes in your favour so you have a highly diverse gut flora with enough of the good guys to keep your hormones balanced. These bacteria help to protect our digestive health, strengthen the stomach lining and reduce inflammation. To optimise your diet for gut health, you’ll want to incorporate a variety of whole foods, like vegetables, fruit and nuts, along with sugar-free, minimally-processed foods like tofu, eggs, ghee and yoghurt. Fermented foods are especially useful in the fight for a healthy gut microbiome, but remember, these probiotics need something to feed on! That’s why an overall balanced and nutritious diet is key in achieving a healthy gut microbiome and improving your mental health.

If you struggle with a sugar habit that’s gotten out of control, it’s often not as simple as just eating less. Many of us start out with the intention to reduce or cut out added sugar, but end up caving in within a day or so. The reason is simple – sugar hotwires our brain as it promotes the release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, leading to a strong desire to relive the sugar high. So, don’t blame your self control, you’re dealing with powerful hormones here – but that’s why we’re here to help.

It’s no secret that a sugar habit is a tough one to beat – wherever you go, sugar is there. Unlike ditching alcohol or illicit drugs, there are few places where sugar is unwelcome. From birthday parties and functions to the office pantry, Sunday markets and the supermarket. Is it any wonder that so many of us find it hard to quit the stuff? That’s why it can also help to join a program like ours – our 8-Week Program is based on accountability, support and providing the essential resources to set you up for success. We’ll help you change the way you look at food – and that doesn’t mean you have to follow restrictive diets or miss out on your favourite foods; we believe you can still enjoy delicious food without jeopardising your health.

With celebrity chef Sarah Glover on our panel of experts, you’ll have an array of fun recipes at your fingertips, along with our own exclusive armoury of simple, tasty and healthy recipes for everything from daily meals to impressive entertaining. We’ve also got nutritionists, personal trainers and naturopaths in our team of experts, and they understand what our bodies need and how to best arm ourselves against those cravings. So, if you’ve been having a little trouble keeping that sugar addiction at bay, we’re here to help. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:

  1. 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
  2. 90+ member-only recipes.
  3. Community forums to share your journey.
  4. Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
  5. Exclusive content from our panel of experts.

So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!


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