Easter is just a hop, skip and a jump away (pun intended) and many of us are looking forward to indulging our taste buds in everything sweet and chocolate covered. My list of personal favourites include Toblerone, Old Gold and Creme Eggs, but I will be eating a little less this year after reading up on the links between sugar, the gut, the brain and mood.

You see the evidence has been mounting recently showing some complex but none-the-less important impacts on mental health and mood from our high sugar diets. There is no single causal pathway, but in general terms it seems that high added sugar intake results in low mood.

The Brain and the Gut – I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “gut feeling” and as it turns out the gut really is like a second brain. There is a direct link between the gut and the brain and this bi-directional pathway is the vagus nerve. The bacteria that live in our gut influence the signals that are sent from the gut to the brain.

The Gut and Bacteria – Our gut and bodies are populated by a vast array of different bacteria that make up our microbiome. We need variety and balance in our microbiome and lifestyle factors (such as sugar consumption, diets high in processed food, intensive use of antibiotics, even the method by which we are born – amongst many other things) can and do reduce this diversity.

Did you know that every human is home to 10x more microbial cells (think bacteria, viruses, fungi) than human cells and 100 – 1000x more microbial genes?

Bacteria and Sugar – There exists a delicate balance of bacteria in our gut, and the foods that we consume feed some bacteria and starve others, similarly as some populations grow, others are squashed. This imbalance then has an impact on what signals get passed to the brain. High levels of certain bacteria (that thrive on sugar) have been linked to anxiety, depression, stress and inflammation.

Sugar and Chocolate – If you want to choose chocolate options that are lower in sugar, in general you will be choosing the more bitter options with a higher content of cacao. If like you are like me and anything over 50% is just too bitter then it just comes down to checking the label for the sugar content. Maybe you can compensate by reducing added sugar elsewhere in your diet.

So how can you still indulge and have fun?

For kids – create fun activities and traditions around Easter so that the day isn’t all about the chocolate. Do egg hunts, strings to follow as they collect their eggs, give them clues and riddles to solve that reveal where the chocolate is hidden, have the kids work together to solve their clues, create treasure maps for them to follow. Make it a social experience and engage their minds and bodies as well as their taste buds.

Eat your chocolate mindfully – try not to eat it mindlessly while watching tv and facebooking, and try not to shovel it down while you hide from your kids in the pantry. Savor the pleasure of the experience, enjoy the anticipation, the smell, the flavour and the texture. Eat slowly and give your attention to the experience – you will enjoy it more and be more satisfied with less volume.

*Chocolate is a small part of the overall picture of added sugar but it is something that we can be aware of and control.
**Added sugar does not include naturally occurring sugar in fruits, vegies and milk.