A high sugar diet could lead to a greater risk of depression or anxiety, especially among men, new research has found.
The large-scale study, published in Scientific Reports, discovered that men who consumed more than 67 grams of sugar a day — equivalent to about three chocolate milkshakes or six cans of soft drink — had a 23 per cent higher chance of developing a mood disorder.
The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows teenage boys consume on average 92 grams (22 teaspoons) of sugar a day, while the average Australian ingests about 60 grams of free sugar.
But when added sugars are included, the figure rises to 105 grams.
Researchers found that those with high sugar diets were more likely to have depression, regardless of whether or not they were overweight or obese.
Nutrition Plus accredited practicing dietitian Melanie McGrice told The New Daily it was unclear as to whether there was a causal link between sugar and depression, and that further research was needed.
She said while the research showed the link between sugar intake and depression may be stronger in men, it might not necessarily be the case.
“Are people turning to sugar because of their depression or is the consumption of sugar exacerbating depression? I would say it’s a bit of both,” Ms McGrice said.
“I think this study gives us another reason to reduce excess sugar in our diets.
“One thing that’s already clearly established is that there’s no health benefit for having high sugar diets.
“Anecdotally, I often see that people with depression are likely to look to sugary foods to give them that energy boost or to lift their mood.”
Ms McGrice said previous research had suggested that those with high sugar diets consumed fewer nutritious foods which were important for minimising the risk of depression, such as omega-3 fats and vitamin D.
She also said sugar had an addictive quality due to sugar highs and lows that could affect mood.
A basic lifestyle change may improve your mood
RMIT psychology lecturer Dr Amy Reichelt said dietary change was a basic lifestyle tweak that anyone concerned about their mental health could try to improve their state.
“Diet is a modifiable factor,” she told The New Daily.
“Reducing sugar in your diet may improve the effects of treatment. It’s certainly not going to be detrimental to your health.
“We’re consuming more and more sugar and people don’t even realise they are consuming added sugar in some foods, like bread or tomato sauce.
“Changes to diet and exercise are an important first intervention for mood disorders.
“But it’s a very complex interaction between diet and mental health.
“There are a lot of other external factors, not just what we’re eating.”
Dr Reichelt noted that because the study used a questionnaire, it could have some limitations due to possible underreporting or misreporting of food consumption.