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How Simple Carbohydrates Affect Mood

author image Brian Connolly
Based in the Appalachian Mountains, Brian Connolly is a certified nutritionist and has been writing professionally since 2000. He is a licensed yoga and martial arts instructor whose work regularly appears in “Metabolism,” “Verve” and publications throughout the East Coast. Connolly holds advanced degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and the University of Virginia.
How Simple Carbohydrates Affect Mood
Sweets such as cupcakes are common foods containing simple carbohydrates. Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Unlike complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and vegetables, simple carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to elevate rapidly. Commonly found in processed foods such as sweets, candy and other products, simple carbs digest very quickly, increasing your blood glucose levels and causing your body to pour out insulin. As a result of the fluctuation, your mood becomes less stable, increasing the chances of anxiety, stress and irritation.

Simple Carb Basics

According to the Mayo Clinic, simple carbohydrates differ from complex carbohydrates due to their chemical makeup. Although both carb types are composed of sugars and starches, complex carbohydrates are found primarily in legumes, grains, potatoes, peas, corn and starchy vegetables, while simple carbs are found in fruits, milk, candy and other processed and sugary foods. While complex carbs tend to have a calming effect, simple carbs can sometimes wreak havoc on the moods of individuals whose blood sugar levels are already imbalanced.

Carbohydrates and the Brain

The consumption of carbohydrates is closely linked to the regulation of serotonin in the brain. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, serotonin is the brain chemical most associated with elevating the mood, acting as a natural tranquilizer and reducing irritation. In other words, consuming the recommended 300 grams of recommended daily carbohydrates can play a similar role as antidepressant medications in regulating moods and boosting overall sensations of contentment.

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Food and Mood

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance recommends that any combination of simple carbs with caffeine, alcohol or chocolate, can have a highly detrimental effect to your mood. As your body digests a simple carb food, your blood sugar levels can spike and then drop off very quickly, mimicking the effect of having skipped a meal. To reduce anxiety and ensure a proper balance to your moods, consume a balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins at regular intervals three times a day.

Safety Concerns

Individuals who are hypoglycemic or experience diabetic symptoms are at a particular risk when eating simple carbs. Talk to your doctor if you have noticed a negative reaction on your mood after eating simple carbs, and inquire as to the best diet for your personal needs. If you are feeling irate, anxious or depressed after eating simple carbs, a change in your overall diet may be required to promote the intake of complex carbs.

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