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Choosing Your Sugar by: Dr Jomel Bajar, PT, DPT, MS

On stressful days like workdays or examination week, “sweets” like ice cream always seems like a good idea. It is delicious, comes in different varieties, and is affordable which makes it an instant favorite for people who need a feel-good quick fix. People always go for these treats because foods that are high in sugar like ice cream trigger the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good hormone. Afterall, who does not want to feel good? However, recent research shows that too much of these high in sugar treats is not all good for you and can in fact, be harmful.

After we eat, insulin is released in our bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone that allows our body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates that wh eat (rice, bread, pasta, etc). We use that sugar for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps our blood sugar level from getting too low or too high. However, eating too much food with high sugar concentration causes blood sugar to act like roller coaster ride, hence, affects our mood. Eating refined sugar destabilize our blood glucose level.

Sugar rush is an experience of high energy after eating or drinking a considerable amount of sugar in a short period of time, makes your body work hard to get back to normal levels, which leaves you feeling drained, foggy, irritable, and tense. This in turn adversely affects all other hormonal processes in the body, including the production of happy brain chemicals, the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Sugar also slows our ability to respond to stress, which can exacerbate our anxiety and prevents you from realizing the root of your stress.

Another part that your sugar consumption affects is your gut. Your gut plays an important part in your mental health and emerging research shows that eating sugar can influence the microorganisms living in it. The microbiome, which is a community of bacteria that lives in your digestive tract plays an important part in your metabolic, immune and nervous system. These microbes are influenced by nutrition and the microbes have a huge influence on your emotional behavior and how you respond to stress. When you eat sweets, for example, the sugar fills up the microbiome, which triggers a series of inflammatory molecular reactions that feeds back to the central nervous system, causing inflammation in the brain. This inflammation messes with your neurotransmitters which then leads to anxiety. Eating too much sugar decrease a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which also helps in the development of depression and anxiety.

Processed sugar is addictive like a drug. The idea of quitting cold turkey can be scary, especially for people who experience panic attacks. Plus, withdrawing from it also can cause serious side effects which involves anxiety, irritability, confusion, and fatigue. So, it is advisable to take things one step at a time when it comes to reducing your consumption of sugar, at your own speed and pace. Reducing your consumption of high sugar foods also doesn’t mean only candies, ice cream and cake, this also involves refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice and cereals.

To quit sugar doesn’t mean to rule out sugar in your life completely. Removing yourself from it is just impossible because most of what we eat has sugar. To be clear, what you should stay from are foods made out of refined, processed sugar which is not good for you. The “sugar” that you should go for are foods that have natural sugars. Substitute your ice cream for example, for a good piece of dark chocolate which have flavanols, methylxanthines, and polyphenols which help boost mood, lower anxiety and fight inflammation, or with a sweet potato, which is a healthy source of fiber and phytonutrients. Instead of processed foods, which eighty percent of it is made out of added sugar, go for a diet that consists of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and whole grains which reduces anxiety according to a study by the American Journal of Psychiatry. Research also suggests that people who eat fermented foods possessed fewer symptoms of social anxiety. Eating yogurt is said to also influence the gut microbes which can lead to the production of compounds that modify brain chemistry.

The reality is, going sugar-free would not treat your anxiety disorder, but changing your high-sugar diet to a healthier one would help you manage it. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, it is advised that you go to a mental health professional first ,so you can come up with a treatment plan that works for you. At the end of the day, this is just a suggestion. What is important is that you listen to what your body tells you. What you put into your body is correlated to what you feel mentally more than you think. Choose your sugar wisely to help your journey to a healthier life.

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