Sugar Avoidance

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

Sugar comes in many forms and is found in a wide variety of foods. Sugars may be naturally occurring (e.g. the sugar found in fruits) or refined and added to foods (e.g. the white sugar you add to a cake when baking). Cutting out refined sugar from the diet has been proposed to improve mood in some cases, and recently there has been a rise in the popularity of sugar free diets.

How does it work?

There is evidence that eating foods rich in carbohydrates (sugar is a simple carbohydrate) produces a temporary improvement in mood. However, it has been proposed that some people have a sensitivity to refined sugar which can lead to lead to depression and overall reduction in wellbeing. In these cases, it is suggested that cutting out refined sugar may improve mood.

Is it effective?

In general, large studies have found that having a healthy diet (eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains) is associated with a lower risk of depression. However, there have been no good quality scientific studies that have looked at the effectiveness of adopting a sugar free diet as a way to treat depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

There are no known disadvantages.

Where do you get it?

If you would like to know more about the role of sugar in your diet, you can seek the help of a dietitian who can assess whether you have any sensitivity to sugar and advise you on any changes to your diet. Private dietitians are listed in the Yellow Pages, or you could ask your GP for a referral.

Recommendation

Given the lack of evidence on sugar avoidance, it cannot be recommended as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Benton D, Donohoe RT. The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Health Nutrition 1999; 2: 403-409.
  • Li Y, Lv M-R, Wei Y-J, Sun L, Zhang J-X, Zhang H-G, et al. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research. 2017; 253: 373-82.
  • Reis DJ, Ilardi SS, Namekata MS, Wing EK, Fowler CH. The depressogenic potential of added dietary sugars. Med Hypotheses. 2019; 134:109421.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019