How Sugar Lowers Stress
By Tyler Woodward
Cops love donuts, people crave ice cream, and athletes love gatorade. In times of stress we turn to ol’ reliable, good old sugar to help ease our wounds, the question is why?
What Is Sugar?:
When people normally refer to sugar they are generally referring to table sugar or sucrose, which is a combination of 1 molecule of glucose and 1 molecule of fructose. In reality sugar can come in various forms:
- Lactose in milk is made up of 1 glucose + 1 maltose
- Honey is made up of a majority of fructose
- Starches like potatoes and bread are made up of a long chain of hundreds to thousands of glucose molecules
What’s The Difference Between Sugar & Processed Sugar?
Processed sugar or table sugar is basically nutrient void. Meaning it doesn’t have any of the essential vitamins and minerals that we need to survive, but it does contain calories or energy, typically in a relatively high quantity. When people are stressed they typically turn to very sugary foods to relieve their stress. While fruits, honey, and starches are very “sugary”, these typically are our go-to sources for stress eating. More typically we opt for foods like:
- Ice Cream
The list goes on…
So the question is why do we crave these foods?
Learn More: The Benefits Of Sugar
Sugar Lowers Stress:
While this at first may seem like a controversial opinion, it also seems pretty intuitive. Hell society has even deemed a lot of these foods as, “comfort foods”. We all know intuitively that when stressed ,eating these foods make us feel better, but few people know how.
To piece this together we have to understand a little bit about stress.
Hans Selye, “the father of stress”, originally defined stress as, “the body's response to challenges”. Selye was most famous for his work on the non-specific nature of stress. Basically, no matter what type of stress is occurring the body responds in the same way by releasing the hormones: glucagon, epinephrine/adrenaline, and cortisol.
While these hormones play a vast number of roles in the body we’re going to focus on their role in metabolism or energy production.
Hormones & Metabolism
- Insulin - When you eat a meal that has any type of carbohydrates or sugar your blood sugar levels rise. When this happens your body releases insulin to signal to your cells to absorb glucose from the blood to use as fuel.
- Glucagon - After a few hours of not eating, your blood sugar levels begin to fall. When this happens your body releases glucagon which signals to your liver to begin to break down its glycogen stores (stored glucose) and to increase the amount of gluconeogenesis, the conversion of non-sugars (fat or proteins) into sugar.
- Adrenaline - After the release of glucagon, adrenaline comes in right after. Adrenaline signals to your fat cells to begin to break themselves down to “mobilize” their fat to be released into the bloodstream. These fatty acids will either be used directly as fuel or to be converted into sugar.
- The release of adrenaline also typically goes hand-in-hand with the release of ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone”. This is the point when your blood sugar has dropped sufficiently and you begin to crave food.
- Cortisol - At this point if you still have not yet eaten your body begins to release cortisol. Cortisol signals to your muscle cells to break themselves down in order to release amino acids into the bloodstream to again be used as fuel or converted into sugar.
The stress hormones in this light are “fuel mobilization” hormones. When you run low on sugar your body releases these hormones in order to adequately supply fuel to your cells, so they can continue to function. Without these hormones your cells would die from a lack of energy as soon your blood sugar levels dropped too low.
When you consume adequate amounts of sugar, your blood sugar levels begin to rise. As this happens your body releases insulin which more or less sends the stress hormones (glucagon, adrenaline, & cortisol) running, as they are no longer needed to provide fuel for the body.
Read More: 5 Supplements To Reduce Cortisol
As I mentioned before, stress is nonspecific, meaning no matter the type of stress your body is subject to whether physical, emotional, or mental, these same stress hormones are released. It’s for these same reasons that sugar helps to lower stress no matter the type of stress. Craving sugar is thereby your body’s natural response to reduce stress.
There’s a reason cops turn to donuts, newly “ex-girlfriends” love their ice cream, and athletes crave gatorade. It’s their body naturally trying to lower stress. Your body’s intention by craving sugar is to lower stress, which is a good thing.
Mainstream media likes to make the claim that sugar is “tricking you” into eating it causing people to gain weight over time due to excess consumption of sugar (but really calories). The issue with this argument is that our body’s didn’t evolve in the modern era, high-stress lifestyle with constant access to sugar delights that we live in today. Your body’s goal is to lower stress, it doesn’t care so much about being beach-body ready 24/7/365.
Read More: The Sugar Secret
The Downsides Of “Sugar”:
- Nutrient Void - Everyone likes to demonize sugar, but it’s insanely rare to hear people demonize maple syrup, honey, fruits, or starches, yet all of these contain sugar. The difference between pure sugar and these “natural sugars” is that the natural sugars contain no vitamins or minerals, just pure calories. While this is definitely a con of pure sugar, it’s all in conext. Having some sugar throughout the day can be completely fine, as long as you are consuming enough nutrient-dense foods throughout the rest of the day.
- High Fat, High Sugar - Nearly every study performed on sugar consists of a high-fat, high-sugar diet, sugar is rarely studied on its own. The majority of these high-fat diets consist of large amounts of the unstable polyunsaturated fats which when used as energy tend to release free radicals causing inflammation. Sugar itself is not inflammatory, it’s what you’re eating the sugar with that causes the inflammation. These are foods like
- Fast (Fried) Foods
- Potato Chips
- Sugar Adjuncts - While pure sugar is nutrient void, a lot of sugar substitutes are actually harming your body. High-fructose corn syrup or corn starches are not real sugars and can deplete your body of other essential nutrients. Additionally additives like those found in many sport drinks can have very toxic effects. Red-40 is known to be potently estrogenic and is banned in the European Union.
Read More: Are Starches Fattening?
It's Not The Sugar:
Here's the thing though... it's not the sugar, I mean how many people do you know that have gotten fat off eating fruit or honey? Believe it or not, sucrose has some benefits, the "devilous" fructose acts as a direct fuel source to replenishing your liver glycogen, helping you further ward off the release of cortisol and adrenaline.
Glucose on the other hand is the main fuel source of your cells, particularly your brain and thryoid (which runs your metabolism). And while excess glucose can result in fat storage due to elevated blood sugar, fructose doesn't cause an elevation in blood sugar since it is only processed by the liver. Meaning that 100 grams of a starch like potatoes or bread is much more likely to result in you storing some of it as fat compared to 100 grams of sugar.
Not to mention, sugar has the potential to increase your metabolism. While everyone thinks of oxygen as our main energy source CO2 is likely just as important. In order to absorb oxygen your cells need to "trade" or "swap" CO2 into your blood. The more CO2 your cells give off, the more oxygen they absorb and use to create energy, resulting in an increased metabolic rate. Glucose metabolism, also known as cellular respiration, consumes oxygen at the same rate as it releases CO2, encouraging the cell to burn more energy compared to fat metabolism.
The key isn't to avoid sugar, but to consume good qualities sugars and I don't just mean fruit, milk, honey and starches. Ice cream, chocolate, pudding, gello, smoothies, cookies, can be all "healthy" sugars if made without any harmful ingredients and combined with an otherwise nutritious diet. It might just take a little extra work for you to be able to enjoy your favorite sugary delights risk-free.
If you want to learn how you can feast on sweets while maintaining a healthy, nutrient-rich diet look no further than the Thermo Diet Program. The Thermo Diet program is designed to teach you how to eat a balanced diet that covers all your of vitamin and mineral needs, so you can bring your body back to an optimal state of health. Click here to try out the Thermo Diet today!
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested!
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good