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Skipping sweets could be the answer to improved mood around the holidays

Researchers urge consumers to monitor their sugar intake during this time of year

Photo (c) Irina Vodneva - Getty Images
While cravings and junk food are hard to ignore during this time of year, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Kansas found that consumers’ diet around the holidays could greatly affect their moods. 

Despite the excitement and holiday cheer, many consumers experience stress this time of year. The researchers found that monitoring sugar intake could be a good way to maintain a positive mood. 

“When we consume sweets, they act like a drug,” said researcher Stephen Ilardi. “They have an immediate mood-elevating effect, but in high doses they can also have a paradoxical, pernicious longer-term consequence of making mood worse, reducing well-being, elevating inflammation, and causing weight gain.” 

Monitoring sugar intake

The researchers analyzed data from several different studies, all of which analyzed participants eating habits and tracked their mood and overall mental health. 

In tracking participants’ lifestyles, they learned that the way the body processes sugar can often lead to mental health concerns. Recent studies have indicated that inflammation was at the heart of these negative side effects. 

The study revealed that the participants who consumed the highest levels of sugar were also more likely to have more inflammation throughout the body, and as a result, more depressive symptoms. 

However, the researchers also explained that the winter months often create a vicious cycle for many consumers when it comes to their mood. The shorter daytime hours can cause mood to plummet. When this happens, the body’s natural response is to crave sugar and carbs; however, as this study revealed, there’s more of a risk for depression symptoms setting in when more sugar is consumed. 

“So, we’ve got up to 30 percent of the population suffering from at least some symptoms of winter-onset depression, causing them to crave carbs -- and now they’re constantly confronted with holiday sweets,” said Ilardi. 

As holiday gatherings become more frequent in these final weeks of December, the researchers suggest consumers practice moderation when they near the dessert table, as doing so could help them boost their mental health during the holiday season and beyond.  

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to predicting exactly how any person’s body will react to any given food at any given dose,” said Ilardi. “As a conservative guideline, based on our current state of knowledge, there could be some risk associated with high-dose sugar intake -- probably anything above the American Heart Association guideline, which is 25 grams of added sugar per day.” 

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