New Research Cites A Few Suggestions To Combat Holiday Moodiness

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
Overhead Photo of a Plate of Chocolate Chip Cookie with Milk

Image by Cameron Whitman / Stocksy

While we may all already know to watch our sugar intake for our physical health, a recent study from the University of Kansas has established a link between eating more sugar and depression.

The study, titled "The Depressogenic Potential of Added Dietary Sugars," found that eating foods with high levels of added sugars can worsen symptoms of depression. As we fall further into the season of holiday parties and all the sweet treats that come with them, it's important to make sure we take into account how they affect our mental health as well.

The study set out to expand the research in the area of sugar's impact on mental health, which, when compared to the extensive research on its impact on physical health, is limited. It used data from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, a study of Spanish university graduates, and studies of Australian and Chinese soda drinkers to assess sugar consumption's relationship to mood.

The researchers point out that the holiday season, for its joy and cheer, also coincides with the time of year for cases of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is estimated to affect around 10 million Americans.

When looking at SAD, the researchers found some commonalities, including dietary patterns. "One common characteristic of winter-onset depression is craving sugar," said Stephen Ilardi, a professor of clinical psychology at the university.

The researchers believe falling moods can cause us to reach for more sweets because of the lift in mood that comes with the sugars. With holiday treats all around, the temptation doesn't help either.

The boost in mood that accompanies a sugary treat is only temporary, the researchers remind us: "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," said Ilardi.

When thinking about how to best address the negative effects of desserts and snacks on your mood, the researchers recommend thinking about it the same way you would alcohol. They advise practicing moderation but don't have an exact threshold to plan on staying below.

"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. He also advises being sure to eat enough omega-3s and plant-based foods, which have been connected with psychological benefits.

Take note of your feelings around the holidays, and if you notice your mood getting poorer, think about watching how much sugar you eat. If, after the fact, you're looking for a way to reset, consider trying these tips for cleansing after holiday indulgences.

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