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Sugar reduces stress, but there are healthier ways to feel better
Satisfying your sweet tooth can reduce stress, but that doesn't mean you should indulge often, according to new research. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Satisfying your sweet tooth can reduce stress, but that doesn't mean you should indulge often, according to new research.

The study (paywall), published in April by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that sucrose, or pure sugar, consumption was associated with lowered cortisol levels. Cortisol is part of the body's fight-or-flight system and it builds up when people feel unsettled or upset.

Sugar's ability to soothe might appear to be an added benefit of snacking on something delicious, but the body's response can create a dangerous relationship to the substance, Pacific Standard reported.

"With sugar, we eat, calm down, gain weight, don't eliminate the source of stress, and continue the cycle until we've eaten the entire box of Thin Mints," the article noted.

As the study's authors wrote, this cycle "may make some people under stress more hooked on sugar and possibly more vulnerable to obesity and its related conditions."

The findings echoed research on comfort food more generally, which Deseret News National reported on in December. Favorite meals, whether they're sweet or savory, can bring a sense of calm to difficult moments, but experts said people should be careful not to let comfort foods become an emotional crutch.

"It's a problem when food becomes your only source of comfort, when you turn to comfort food instead of turning to a friend," Susan Albers, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, said.

The new sugar research both confirms assumptions about people's relationships to their favorite sweets and adds an urgency to the search for other, healthier ways to combat stress, Pacific Standard noted.

In a list of "science-backed ways to reduce stress," Greatist explored a variety of ways to relax without indulging in bad habits. The article highlighted meditation, deep breathing, tea drinking, laughter, exercise and joining a religious organization as key ways to bring a sense of calm to everyday life.

Additionally, Time recently reported on the well-being benefits of taking a walk around the block during the work day. "New research finds that a half-hour walk at lunchtime promotes increased relaxation and reduced stress among office workers," the article noted.

Perhaps the easiest (and most enjoyable) way to reduce stress if eating sweets is off the table is simply taking a nap. As The Huffington Post noted in a list of sleep's health benefits, sleeping well boosts your mind.
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