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Hanger Management

The Oxford English dictionary defines the word hangry as “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” If you’ve ever felt angry because you’ve been hungry, you know the sensation of “hanger” and it’s not fun. You might notice a drop in energy, have trouble with focus, and your mood can sour very quickly.

Waiting too long between meals or eating foods that metabolize and break down quickly, are the main contributors to that hangry feeling. In nutrition speak, this is the result of low blood sugar. Anytime blood sugar is low, hanger can rear its ugly head.

Why does this happen?

Carbohydrates are the body’s greatest source of fuel. There are two types of carbohydrates: the first is refined or simple carbs, these are the carbs found in baked goods and pastries, as well as white bread, white pasta, and white rice. This type of carb gets broken down quickly, and causes a sudden rise in blood sugar, followed by a crash, with a quick return to hunger right behind. Think about a time when you’ve had a bowl of cereal or a muffin for breakfast and how you were hungry again shortly after eating. The simple/refined carbohydrate is to blame.

The second type of carbohydrate is unrefined or complex carbs which are found in whole grain products such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, farro, whole wheat pasta and starchy vegetables such as peas, potatoes, and corn. This type of carbohydrate will also raise blood sugar, albeit more slowly because it contains fiber and whole grains which take longer to digest.

The fact that both types of carbohydrates raise blood sugar is why carbohydrates alone won’t help to keep you full for long or keep hanger at bay. But adding protein, and/or fat to carbohydrates will. Protein and/or fat counteract the effect of the spike in blood sugar by slowing digestion. This is important because when carbohydrates break down slower, this helps the blood sugar remain stable for a longer period of time, the big payoff here is that you’ll feel fuller longer, maintain steady energy and have a more stable mood.

To help prevent hanger from messing with your day, include carbohydrates, preferably the unrefined/complex kind, with a good source of protein and/or fat with all your meals and snacks. Use the chart below as a reference on how to pair these macronutrients. For better satiety and long-lasting energy, choose one food from each column:

Content Submitted by Janyce Gately MS, RD, LDN, CHC