Is Your Sugar Habit Impacting Your Mood & Energy?

by | Aug 13, 2021 | Digestive Health, Mental Health, Nutrition

Sugar is everywhere – since the “Low fat” fad in the 1980s we have seen sugar sky rocket in the foods we eat.

Even when we think we’re eating healthy, you’d be surprised just how much sugar you’re getting.

All About Sugar 

Sugar comes in many forms including glucose, lactose, fructose, and sucrose, and it’s disguised in many other forms.  Glucose is the most refined form of carbohydrate, and is used by our cells for energy.

Anything that ends in -ose or -saccharides is a form of sugar.

It’s found in naturally high amounts in fruits, but a lot of the sugar we take in is processed, highly refined sugars, which act very different in the body than fruit sugar (fructose).

One of the reasons for this is that when you eat a piece of fruit, you’re not just eating sugar.  You’re eating fibre, vitamins and minerals, which have nutritional benefit to your body, and help to slow down the blood sugar-and-insulin response.

Sugar substitute/sweeteners such as Splenda, stevia, sorbitol and aspartame don’t affect your body and blood sugar in the same way.

To understand the difference between natural sugars (like those found in fruits) and processed sugars (like those found in junk food) let’s take a look at how it’s used in the body.


How Sugars are Used in the Body

Any carbohydrate (such as fruit, grain, or bread) is ultimately broken down into sugar molecules for the body to use for energy.

After eating, your body digests your food, breaking down starches and carbohydrates into smaller glucose molecules which are absorbed into your bloodstream and this raises your blood sugar level.  This causes a release of insulin from the pancreas, which signals the body to move glucose into the cells for energy production.

The rate at which food is digested and absorbed into your blood stream depends mostly on what you eat.

If you eat a food that has sugars together with fibre, fat or protein, this slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, which means your blood sugar has a slow steady rise and stays stable for longer. If you were to eat just sugar on it’s own (such as a treat) it would spike quickly and then crash.

Insulin is released from your pancreas which acts as the key to let the sugar into your cells to be used for energy.

There’s nothing wrong with sugar in moderation, but it needs to be consumed with foods that will help stabilize your blood sugar. Ex: apple + peanut butter or a chicken wrap + a cookie.


What happens when blood sugars are imbalanced?

– low energy

– mood swings

– agitation, irritability, or feeling “hangry”

– brain fog, low motivation

– weight gain, especially in the midsection

– increased risk of type II diabetes

– sex hormone imbalances

How Sugar Impacts Mental Health

Sugar can impact mental health in several ways:

Blood sugar imbalances: eaten alone, or in excess, sugar or simple carbs can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. We often refer to these blood sugar lows as “hangry” – your get irritable, shaky, tired, foggy.

This is because your brain needs a steady stream of glucose to function optimally, when your blood sugar falls outside of the normal range it doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to function.


Dopamine: Sugar causes a high surge of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain which is involved in emotional control over our more primitive brain).

Dopamine is an important feel good neurotransmitter, involved in the reward & pleasure pathway.  Strong sugar cravings and pleasure seeking behaviour may be a sign that dopamine is naturally deficient, or lacking.


Gut microbiome:  Sugar and simple carbs feed dysbiotic (inflammatory) bacteria and other microbes in your digestive tract.

These bacteria impact mental health in several ways.

  • Toxins: they produce toxins (including d-lactate and LPS) that circulate throughout the whole body and even affect your brain. They interact with your gut cells to trigger an inflammatory immune response.


  • Inflammation: they promote inflammation not only in the gut, but in the rest of the body via toxins as well as stimulating the release of immune molecules called cytokines.


  • Leaky Gut & Brain & Depression: leaky gut is caused by chronic gut inflammaiton; the gut lining becomes porous allowing toxins and food particles into the bloodstream which mounts an immune response. This inflammation can cross the blood brain barrier, cause brain inflammation and contribute to depression and brain fog.


  • Nutrient Deficiencies: with certain conditions such as SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) Celiac disease and IBD, chronic gut inflammation causes malabsoprtion of nutrients and nutrient deficiencies. Bacteria can also steal nutrients to use for their own purposes.

Your mental health starts in your gut.

Get your happy back by joining nutritionist Holly Bradich, BSc. for a free, on demand webinar:

Mental Wellness Strategies

Why you shouldn’t avoid sugar

When you try to abstain completely from any particular food you end up craving it more – it’s the nature of human psychology.

Instead, enjoy treats in moderation and on special occasions.

Listen to your body after you indulge – how do you feel? What about the next day?

If you notice a pattern where it seems to upset your stomach or cause more pain then it might be your body telling you to reduce your intake.

How much sugar should you be eating?

Here are some general guidelines:

– don’t limit natural fruit sugar: in general, aim to eat more vegetables than fruits, but don’t be concerned about fruit sugar unless it upsets your stomach or you have diabetes

– processed sugars (sweets & treats): aim for no more than 25g per day, which is the recommended maximum amount per day for Canadian adults. On special occasions you may find you’re having more than 25g, and that’s ok once in a while. Listen to your body.

– if you have a chronic inflammatory disorder (ie. chronic pain, migraines), you may find it helpful to limit sugars as much as possible. Again, listen to your body.

About the Author

Holly Bradich BSc. has degrees in applied human nutrition and psychology and is passionate about the gut-brain connection.

In her own health journey with IBS, Celiac disease, anxiety & depression and chronic pain she found western medicine just couldn’t offer her the relief she needed and deserved, so she decided to take a more holistic approach.

holly bradich nutritionist headshot

After years of reserach, schooling, and working with a team of healthcare practitioners she is feeling better than ever before, and she wanted to spread the word and help others.

She believes in empowering her clients to understand their body, the root caues of their conditions and guiding them with sceince based, sustainable strategies to achieve optimal health and mental wellness.

Gut healing doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time to heal the root causes and restore balance to the body, as multiple body systems are involved and factors such as stress, sleep and mental health also play a role.

For this reason, Holly put together a 3 month intensive package – Mind Your Gut – to provide her clients with the support and personalized care they need to heal faster and get back to feeling themselves again.

Why Mind Your Gut?

– overcome Google overwhelm: science based, personalized step by step protocol

– faster healing: get unstuck and feel better faster

– flexible eating: no strict diet – enjoy treats in moderation

– boost mood, energy & brain power

– doable even for busy people

– not sympotm management, deep healing for lasting relief

mind your gut package nutrition digestive health Holly Bradich

Should you go gluten free? Try probiotics?

It can be overwhelming. For gut health advice you can trust, join nutritionist Holly Bradich BSc. for a free webinar and leave with clarity and action strategies to feel better faster!


Verdure Wellness Clinic in Waterloo, ON offers naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, nutrition consulting, massage therapy and chiropractic care. Our team of health practitioners offer a variety of services with your best health and wellness in mind.

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