According to Rita Elkins in “Solving the Depression Puzzle,” the average American eats more than 125 pounds of white sugar a year, comprising 25 percent of our daily calorie intake. Cutting down on your sugar consumption, Ms Elkins advises, can be one of the best things you do for your health, as well as one of the hardest.
Carbs are basically slow-acting sugars. Sugar and starch in carbohydrates temporarily boost serotonin levels, which may account for the carbohydrate cravings in people prone to depression. At the 2003 DBSA conference I attended, nutritionist Diana Lipson-Burge pointed out that our population is not so much addicted to carbs as to the temporary serotonin rush. Essentially, if serotonin were a street drug, we would be shooting it up.
Unfortunately, we pay a terrible price for our addictions. A 2002 University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center survey of six countries found that those populations with higher per capita refined sugar consumption corresponded with higher rates of depression. The five western countries in the survey, including the US, out-sugared and out-depressed Korea by a country mile. New Zealand topped the list with 500 sugar calories a day and a nearly six percent annual depression rate. Koreans, by contrast, consumed 200 sugar calories a day and experienced a two percent annual depression rate.
Excess sugar consumption can result in severe mood swings, not a good thing for people with our illness. The temporary high from a sugar/serotonin fix is soon replaced by the energy drain and depression of a sugar crash. In addition, excess sugar sets us up for metabolic catastrophe. Paradoxically, the more sugar in your system, the more you may start craving it. Your stomach may be full, but your brain is telling you that you haven’t eaten in a week. Eventually, the pancreas throws in the towel and you are dealing with insulin over-production, which can – of all things – lower blood sugar and result in even more cravings.
In “The Antidepressant Survival Guide,” Robert Hedaya MD of Georgetown University recommends eating protein with your carbs to smooth out sugar’s wild roller coaster. Think egg or egg beaters with that morning bagel.
It also pays to be mindful of the sugar in food products. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a cup of fruit yogurt provides 70 percent of a the FDA’s recommended daily consumption of added sugar; a cup of ice cream amounts to 60 percent, a Hostess Lemon Fruit Pie 115 percent, and a quarter-cup of pancake syrup 103 percent.
Meanwhile, a 20-oz Coke contains the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar, way over the FDA daily limit. Think of pouring 15 packets of sugar into your Starbucks coffee, and you get the idea. Now think of how many soft drinks your teen-ager may be glugging down in the school cafeteria – together with other junk - then ask yourself it there may be a connection to the rise in behaviors that mimic mood, learning, and conduct disorders.