Is Your Sugar Addiction Stressing You Out?

Are you addicted to sugar but don’t realize it? Millions of Americans who are trying to limit sugar intake are inadvertently consuming more of the sweet stuff than they realize. And it’s contributing to heightened anxiety, depression, and stress—none of which you need right now.

On a recent episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast with hosts Daniel G. Amen, MD, and Tana Amen, BSN/RN, the pair tackled sugar addiction among other topics with Dr. Uma Naidoo. A board-certified psychiatrist and professional chef, Dr. Naidoo is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods, that we’re going to talk about, That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.

In the episode, Dr. Naidoo shares the story of one of her patients who was a highly successful executive who developed severe anxiety and panic attacks about 18 months after starting a new high-level position. In trying to root out why this man had started developing these issues so late in life, she asked him about his diet.

It turned out that after starting his new job, he began eating a lot of processed food and a lot of fast foods. “People don’t know that fast foods—even French fries—have sugar in them,” Dr. Naidoo says. “A lot of research has gone into making them delectable and delicious and wanting you to eat more. So we are actually consuming sugar when we don’t even know it.”

WHY SUGAR IS SO ADDICTIVE IN THE BRAIN

Sugar acts like a drug in the brain. When you consume it, it boosts the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and causes your blood sugar to spike, which makes you feel good…temporarily. But then your blood sugar levels crash, impacting your moods and sense of wellbeing. Over time, high-sugar diets increase inflammation, cause insomnia and fatigue, trigger cravings, lead to erratic brain cell firing that has been implicated in aggression, and alter memory and learning. Ouch!

The evils of sugar may come as no surprise to you. And you may be making a conscious effort to eat a brain healthy low-sugar diet. Unfortunately, many “healthy” foods are actually filled with hidden sugars that fuel your addiction and keep you feeling stressed, depressed, and anxious. Here are 10 common culprits to avoid.

10 “HEALTHY” FOODS WITH HIDDEN SUGARS

Flavored Greek yogurt:

Filled with protein and live culture probiotics, Greek yogurt sounds like a winner. But some flavored varieties also come with a heaping serving of sugar—12 grams for some flavors.

Pre-made protein smoothies:

A protein smoothie can be a great way to start the day, unless you’re consuming some store-bought varieties. One brand touted that it had 120% the protein in other varieties, but it neglected to promote that it was also packed with 44 grams of sugar—32 grams of added sugars—in a single serving.

Nut butter:

Almond butter, cashew butter, and other nut butter can be a good source of protein and fat. But be sure to read the nutrition labels. Some brands sneak sugar into their product to amp up the bliss point.

Instant oatmeal:

Packed with fiber and loaded with vitamins and minerals, slow-cooking oatmeal is associated with numerous health benefits. Instant oats, however, are highly processed and rank much higher on the glycemic index, indicating that they spike blood sugar. Popular instant oatmeal flavors like maple and brown sugar can have about 12 grams of added sugars.

Milk alternatives:

Milk is converted to galactose and glucose, which raises blood sugar levels and can lead to inflammation, diabetes, and obesity. And a milk protein called casein is an excitotoxin that can lead to brain inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. Going dairy-free can be beneficial for brain health and overall well-being, but some milk alternatives are flavored—think vanilla, chocolate, or pumpkin spice—and have about 13 grams of sugar per serving.

Flavored bottled water:

Water is essential for good brain health. Your brain is comprised of 80% water and being even mildly dehydrated can make you feel more anxious, tense, depressed, or angry and can also sap your energy levels and reduce concentration. One popular flavored water brand contains 27 grams of sugar in a single serving.

Gummy vitamins:

It’s a good idea to take nutritional supplements to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need. Be aware that when you gobble up gummy vitamins, you’re likely also getting a dose of sugar with those nutrients.

Bottled green tea:

Green tea is loaded with antioxidants, as well as a compound called l-theanine, which has been found to inhibit excessive overfiring in the brain to produce a feeling of calmness. That’s great, just skip the brands that infuse good-for-you green tea with over 20 grams of sugar.

Salad dressing:

Eating more greens and veggies provides your brain with a variety of nutrients and antioxidants. Dousing salads with sugar-laden store-bought dressings, however, can turn your healthy meal into one that has more sugar than you realized.

Protein powder:

You may think that making a protein smoothie at home is the best way to control what you put into it. Be sure to check the ingredients of your protein powder since many of them sneak sugar into the mix to enhance the flavor. Adding fruit—think blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries—should be all the natural sugar your smoothie requires.

Anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you, and we offer nutritional psychiatry as part of our comprehensive evaluations and treatment plans. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

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