Why We Get Hangry
The Culprit is Low Blood Sugar
We’ve all experienced it. It happens when we’re scrambling to meet deadlines and lunch gets pushed back.
It happens when we’ve been searching for a restaurant that’s still open late.
It happens when our kids get home from school before that afternoon snack.
Those tell-tale growls from an empty stomach begin to take over,
turning into the demons of hunger and anger. Now we’re hangry!
Urban Dictionary defines hangry as: When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated, or both.
Example: "Damn! Where is that steak I ordered? We've been waiting for an hour and a half here.
The service here is terrible! I'm starving! I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel really hangry!"
Being hangry is such a common phenomenon that Snickers has made it a mainstay of their commercials
since they debuted the “you’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign at the 2010 Super Bowl.
Since then an assortment of celebrities have starred in the campaign,
which taps into the altered state of consciousness we seem to enter sometimes when we’re hungry.
So why do we get hangry? What is actually happening?
The Science Behind Hangry
If you’ve ever wondered why being hungry can make you irritable, science has the answer.
Feeling hangry actually has everything to do with the state of low blood sugar that can happen
when we haven’t eaten in a while and are missing the glucose we use as fuel to keep us going.
Low blood sugar (known as hypoglycemia in the medical community) is a common problem for people with diabetes, but anyone can experience it.
Glucose is your body’s main energy source, and when you don’t have enough, it shows up in many different symptoms:
heart palpitations, fatigue, pale skin, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, hunger, irritability, and more.
So being hangry is that symptom of irritability when the glucose levels in the blood become too low.
One study showed experimentally that low blood sugar can lead to more aggressive feelings towards a spouse.
Another study suggests that low glucose levels are linked to aggression because the brain uses glucose in self-control.
Researchers state that “a spoonful of sugar helps aggressive and violent behaviors go down.”
Another study found that low blood sugar even leads to more negative appraisals of a life situation.
How to Avoid Getting Hangry
The best way to resolve the hangry state is not to get there in the first place.
Dietician Leslie Beck tells the Globe and Mail
that there are many dietary modifications that can help prevent you from falling into a state of low blood sugar.
She says that it’s important to allow glucose to enter your bloodstream slowly at a steady, even pace.
She recommends eating every 2–3 hours, not skipping meals, and introducing a snack midmorning and midafternoon.
She also advises carrying snacks with you when you leave home, in case you experience a hangry episode while you’re out.
The best foods to eat are carbohydrate-rich but with a low glycemic index.
These are foods that get digested slowly and therefore release glucose slowly.
They include: bran cereal, large flake and steel cut oatmeal, stone-ground whole wheat, pasta, milk, yogurt,
soy beverages, apples, pears, oranges, dried apricots, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
Beck also says that your meals should include a source of protein to help curb swings in blood sugar.
These foods include: lean meat, poultry, fish, low-fat cheese, eggs, tofu, nuts, and yogurt.
Lastly, including soluble fiber slows down digestion, which also helps slow the release of glucose.
Foods high in fiber include: oatmeal, oat bran, psyllium-enriched breakfast cereals,
flaxseed, barley, legumes, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, and strawberries.
Things you should avoid? Caffeine and alcohol can make low blood sugar worse.
You should also avoid foods with a high glycemic index that will contribute to big swings in your blood sugar.
These are foods such as: sugary breakfast cereals, regular soda, desserts and candies, honey, chocolate milk, sports drinks, BBQ sauce, and ketchup.
However, if you do have extremely low blood sugar, it can be useful to eat one of these sugary foods to boost blood sugar levels in the short term to get you back on track.
But the best way to avoid becoming hangry in the first place is to make sure your diet is healthy and balanced with foods that are rich in carbs but have a low glycemic index.
Tips for Parents
Those with kids will know the terrors of hangry children all too well.
Make sure they leave for school armed with a balanced lunch and some healthy snacks to get them through the day.
Swap soda and store-bought juices for homemade juices, infused waters, or milk.
Prepare a plate of refueling goodies for when they get home: apples, cheese, nuts,
and yogurt are all healthy options that will prevent those big blood sugar swings.
If your kids do reach the hangry stage, you can give them something to quickly boost glucose levels, like a cup of fruit juice or spoonful of honey,
but be sure to prepare something more substantial that’s got a low glycemic index to follow that up, to rebalance those blood sugar levels.
You Aren’t You When You’re Hangry
Being hangry is no fun for you or the people around you. But if you plan out balanced meals that include carb-rich,
low-glycemic index foods combined with protein and soluble fiber, you should never have to experience it.
Just remember: eat small meals more often, don’t skip meals, pack healthy snacks,
and don’t leave home without an “emergency” snack. Don’t get hangry, get balanced blood sugar!