Is Sugar Making You Stressed?

By Marcie Vaske, MS, LN
May 10, 2016


Have you ever heard the word sugar and then thought, “Oh yes, that sugar creates stress in my body!” I am going to take a leap and guess that is not your first thought, but, it is true! In fact, high amounts of sugar in your diet and low blood sugar create stress in your body. Let me give you a few examples…


A common day of eating that leads to stress

Let’s say you stop by the coffee shop on your way to work in the morning. You order a large white chocolate mocha and as you drive into work you are enjoying your coffee. What you may not realize is you are drinking down 84 grams of carbohydrates, which turns into 21 teaspoons of sugar in your blood stream! 21 TEASPOONS!!  

Now it’s mid-morning, you are nearly gnawing your arm off because you are so hungry, maybe even a little irritable or perhaps not focusing like you could. You need something to pep you up fast and what is fast? A bagel in the break room that a co-worker brought in. You grab the bagel and head back to your computer to eat it. The bagel has 44 grams of carbohydrates, so your mid-morning snack turns into 11 teaspoons of sugar in your blood stream. 11 TEASPOONS!! You are now on another sugar high and in a short time, you will crash and your blood sugar will be low, and again you will be looking for a quick fix. Sugar to the rescue.   

Now it’s lunch time, you didn’t pack a lunch so you look for a sandwich shop and pick up a 12-inch sandwich, with some chips and a soda totaling 244 grams of carbohydrates all of which become 61 teaspoons of sugar in your blood stream. 61 TEASPOONS!! You have now eaten 372 grams of carbohydrates that your body turned into 93 teaspoons of sugar and it is only 1:00pm!  You have to wonder, what is this doing to my body?

Why high-sugar eating makes you stressed

When you consume high amounts of sugar on a daily basis you are going to find yourself on a blood sugar roller coaster and when you get on that ride, you realize quickly it makes you stressed. A high-sugar meal or beverage picks you up, but in no time you’re crashing down again.

Sugar-stress_insomnia-man.jpgWhat are the consequences? You may find yourself losing sleep. (Insomnia is a symptom of unmanaged blood sugar.) You may make yourself some popcorn for an evening snack and wake at 2:00am, wide awake. Why? Your high blood sugar fell from your high-sugar snack and now you are experiencing low blood sugar which will wake you up. Over time, lack of sleep will impact your daily activities. You may struggle to get through a day or work, or take care of your family in the evenings and you end up feeling stressed.

Do you experience anxiety or depression? When you are riding high with spiked blood sugar you eventually crash and for some people when they have low blood sugar, their anxiety increases or their depression intensifies and it sends them looking for more carbohydrates because their brain needs to feel better. Sugar gives you a fast calm, but it doesn’t last and when the calm goes away, you’re stressed again.

Excess sugar = inflammation

Another consequence of eating foods high in sugar is that excess sugar causes inflammation and can lead to chronic and/or serious health problems. When your diet is high in sugar, that creates inflammation in your body and you may be experiencing aches and pains. Have you ever thought that your aching joints could feel better with less sugar in your diet? Sugar acts like sandpaper on your joints, so less sugar means less sandpaper and less pain.  

Sugar-stress_stressed-woman.jpgWhat about those of you who feel like you can’t remember things the way you used to? Sugar creates inflammation in your brain too. You may lose focus, can’t remember why you went into a room, or forget where you parked your car at the grocery store. Less sugar means less inflammation in your brain and more mental clarity.  

What about Type 2 diabetes? This is created by too much sugar in your daily diet which increases the amount of insulin in your body, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Overtime, the cells that take in glucose become desensitized and the pancreas pumps out more insulin to get cells to respond, which leaves excess glucose floating in the bloodstream—not where it should be. It is estimated that 37 million Americans are dealing with Type 2 diabetes. Another indicator of too much sugar is obesity. One third of American adults are clinically obese. Eating excess amounts of sugar packs on the pounds because sugar does not fill you up, like protein and healthy fats do, so you want more and more.

Put an end to the sugar-stress cycle  

How can you decrease sugar in your diet and experience less stress and inflammation? You can start today by getting rid of the processed foods in your kitchen cabinets and desk drawers at work, and replace them with real foods. At every meal and snack make sure you’re eating protein, vegetables, small amounts of fruit, and healthy fats.  

Eating three meals a day and two to three snacks per day is key to ending your sugar cravings. This will balance your blood sugar throughout the day and also keep inflammation that sugar creates, out of your life.

For more information, listen to our podcast: How Sugar Creates Stress

About the author

Marcie truly understands the healing power of nutrition having once suffered from anorexia, obsessive-compulsive exercising and anxiety, all of which led to chronic and complex digestive issues for her. She credits good nutrition in playing a critical role in her recovery from anorexia, diminishing anxiety, and helping to heal her digestive tract. She joined Nutritional Weight & Wellness in 2011, completed her M.S. in clinical nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, and is a licensed nutritionist through the Minnesota Board of Dietetics and Nutrition.

View all posts by Marcie Vaske, MS, LN

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