“Hangry” — it’s not just a punchline to tease your friends with before dinner arrives. Hunger-induced irritability is real. It’s the result of falling blood sugar levels, which prompt your body to release cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline. That might’ve helped early humans chase down a meal, but it’s counterproductive while you’re standing in line for a sandwich.
As if snapping at friends and colleagues weren’t enough, hanger triggers cravings for foods like cookies or donuts that will spike the blood sugar quickly, says Stacie Ly, MD, internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad. “A lot of what people eat correlates to their mood,” she notes.
Below, Dr. Ly offers four tips to keep you fueled, not fuming, between meals.
“Staying hydrated will make you less sensitive to low blood sugar,” Dr. Ly says. Keep a bottle handy and you’ll avoid the compounded effect of mood swings from dehydration.
Dr. Ly recommends sticking to a regular meal schedule. “Prevent yourself from getting to the point where you’re really hungry,” she says. “Hopefully, people who eat three times a day won’t feel like they’re starving.”
Rather than reaching for a candy bar, eat balanced meals rich with protein, healthy fats and complex carbs like vegetables and leafy greens. These foods raise your blood sugar more slowly and evenly than sugary foods and simple carbs, so you’ll keep feeling a steady energy without a subsequent crash. “If you’re going to have carbohydrates, you definitely want to eat some protein, too,” adds Dr. Ly.
Munch on foods high in protein and fiber, like nuts, cheese, eggs, hummus and fruit. Check out our suggestions for healthy snacks to keep in your desk.