If you’re not happy with your diet, try not to get stressed about it. That might only make things worse. A recent study suggests that one reason people may find themselves reaching for more sugary foods is that the sweetener also serves as a stress reliever.
For the study, women drank either sugary beverages or sweetened ones before taking math tests designed to stress them out. After the tests, they underwent MRI brain scans and had their saliva tested for its cortisol levels. Women who consumed sugar had lower cortisol levels as well as more activity in the hippocampus, both signs of lower stress.
“This is the first evidence that high sugar—but not aspartame—consumption may relieve stress in humans,” Kevin D. Laugero, one of the study’s authors as well as an associate adjunct nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis, and a scientist with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, said in a press release.
Though relieving stress has benefits on the body, tying that relief to sugar could lead to overconsumption, which obviously has negative health effects. That’s something to keep in mind the next time you feel yourself getting worked up. But at least the next time you’re stress-eating an entire bag of Oreos, you can know it’s actually doing something.