A woman with her hand on her head.

Sugar + Mood Swings

Breaking the detrimental cycle of bad mood -> sugar high -> sugar low -> worse mood.

The physical problems caused by too much sugar are well researched and documented. In short, sugar causes inflammation and inflammation is a big cause of chronic health problems. But, sugar also causes mental health issues including mood swings and exacerbated anxiety and depression.

That sugary Starbucks drink gives us a sugar rush, but it also gives us a big sugar low. It’s that lull we have to worry about. There are studies suggesting that a greater sugar intake contributes to imbalanced moods – anxiousness, panicky feelings, increased risk of developing depression and a weakened ability to handle stress. It’s even said to diminished brain cognition. And it happens fast. Research shows that within 5 days of a higher sugar diet, you start experiencing negative mood/brain symptoms.

That pint of ice cream, cookie or bag of chips may sound like a good idea in the moment. But the ongoing cycle of bad mood -> sugar high -> sugar low -> worse mood is detrimental in the long term.

So, What Do We Do?

The answer: it’s not easy. We see lots of ads touting beautiful desserts and delicious looking French fries. And then there are the hidden sugars – sugars in tomato sauce, OJ, the white puffy baguette and even fruit.

Lowering sugar should be done with baby steps. Sugar withdrawals are a real thing and can cause fatigue, irritability, anxiousness or worse.

Work on quitting the processed bagged snacks and reach for old-fashioned real foods. It will take time, but as you dissect your choices, you can create a new plan that has less sugar and more healthy fat. Our brains like healthy fats.

Science-Backed Mood Boosting Foods

  • FISH (Omega 3s) – A tuna sandwich will make your brain happy
  • DARK CHOCOLATE has mood boosting and feel-good brain chemicals and flavonoids
  • FERMENTED FOODS, including naturally fermented pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut provide healthy bacteria in the gut, which helps to create serotonin, our feel-good neurotransmitter
  • BANANAS contain B6, which is a big contributor to dopamine and serotonin
  • OLD FASHIONED OATS are a great source of fiber (helps with good gut health) and a good source of iron, which is a common nutrient deficiency, and causes mood issues. Oats also help stabilize blood sugar swings, due to their fiber
  • BERRIES have lots of antioxidants, which combat internal stress, are a lower sugar sweet and pair well with nuts and seeds
  • NUTS & SEEDS are a rich source of plant-based fiber, protein and healthy fats and are a quick and easy pick-me-up

For more info on blood sugar balance, good energy or feeling your best through smarter food choices, please contact our holistic nutritionists. It’s a personal puzzle, but we can assist in figuring out what’s best for your body.

Read more on sugar issues and book a free 20-minute consultation with Healthy Nest Nutrition owner Robin Hutchinson.


Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 6287. Published online 2017 Jul 27. doi: 1038/s41598-017-05649-7

PMCID: PMC5532289 PMID: 28751637. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Anika Knüppel,Martin J. ShipleyClare H. Llewellyn, and Eric J. Brunner

2019 Jun; 11(6): 1250. Published online 2019 May 31. doi: 10.3390/nu11061250 PMCID: PMC6627391 PMID: 31159322. Dietary Patterns and Their Association with Anxiety Symptoms among Older Adults: The ATTICA Study.Maria F. Masana,1,2,3 Stefanos Tyrovolas,1,2,4,* Natasa Kollia,4 Christina Chrysohoou,5 John Skoumas,5 Josep Maria Haro,1,2 Dimitrios Tousoulis,5 Charalambos Papageorgiou,6 Christos Pitsavos,5 and Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos4

Int J Endocrinol. 2013; 2013: 701967. Published online 2013 Aug 20. doi: 1155/2013/701967 PMCID: PMC3762204 PMID: 24027581 Diet-Regulated Anxiety Michelle Murphy* and Julian G. Mercer

BMC Psychology volume 7, Article number: 14 (2019). Possible relation between consumption of different food groups and depression.G. Grases, M. A. Colom, P. Sanchis & F. Grases

Antioxidants 2019, 8(9), 376; https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox8090376 Linking What We Eat to Our Mood: A Review of Diet, Dietary Antioxidants, and Depression. by Qingyi Huang 1,2,3,Huan Liu 1,2,Katsuhiko Suzuki 4OrcID,Sihui Ma 3,*OrcID andChunhong Liu 1,2

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 102, Issue 2, August 2015, Pages 454–463, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.103846. High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative James E Gangwisch, Lauren Hale, Lorena Garcia, Dolores Malaspina, Mark G Opler, Martha E Payne, Rebecca C Rossom, Dorothy Lane.