Why we get "hangry"

Tired? Irritable? Can't concentrate? Maybe you’re ‘hangry’ (an amalgamation of hungry and angry,) which is a feeling usually caused by a lack of food. 

If you've just snapped somebody's head off for no reason or you're feeling grumpy and short-tempered, it may be a sign you need to eat. A report from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney suggests that being "hangry" may be a real emotion, caused by lack of food.

"Why we get "hangry"

"When there are long periods of time between meals, our blood sugar [level] drops. This can make us feel weak, tired, bring on that all-familiar ‘brain fog,’ and for some of us, make us quite grumpy," says Accredited Practising Dietitian Lisa Renn. "Sugary foods will give your blood sugar a quick lift but it’s only temporary and won’t keep 'hanger' from the door for too long. Our ability to focus and concentrate relies on a steady supply of energy to the brain. Our brain’s preferred form of energy is glucose, which comes from carbohydrates that we eat found in fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, legumes, and dairy foods like milk and yoghurt."

The importance of snacking

If you are trying to lose weight and are therefore eating smaller portions, this can mean you are more likely to get hungry sooner. "However, if you haven’t got any snacks prepared this could set you up for an attack of 'hangry'," says Renn. "The problem with allowing yourself to get 'hangry' is that you won’t be thinking as clearly as usual, so you may be likely to grab something quickly, such as biscuits or chocolate. These are things you may have been trying to cut down on, so now not only are you 'hangry' but you are frustrated as well!"

"It’s important to be prepared and have regular healthy meals and snacks on hand that will regulate [your] blood sugar," says Renn. "The best snacks have a bit of carbohydrate to pick your [blood] sugar up and a bit of protein to satisfy your hunger. Good choices include yoghurt, milk, grainy dry biscuits with hummus, a handful of dried fruit and nuts."
Girl peeling mandarin

How to avoid getting "hangry"

"Eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day will make sure you have a stable supply of energy to keep you going, and avoid getting ‘hangry’," says Renn. She recommends following some simple guidelines to keep "hanger" at bay. 
1.  Be prepared
Bringing lunch into work, such as leftovers from dinner or keeping ingredients for sandwiches/wraps in the fridge is simple and budget-friendly. 

2.  Eat right
Feeling good comes from a diet that offers high quality nutritious foods in the right amounts. This includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grain foods like bread, cereals, dairy foods, lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes.

3.  Snack smart
Try these snacks to help ward off hunger: 
  • Fresh fruit (i.e. apple/banana/mandarin – easy to transport and don’t require refrigeration)
  • Vegetable sticks (such as carrot/cucumber/celery/capsicum 
  • A 200g tub of yoghurt 
  • A small handful of unsalted mixed nuts 
  • Air-popped popcorn 
  • Reduced fat cheese and wholegrain crackers 
  • Small cans of tuna with wholegrain crackers 
  • Nut and seed bars (check the label for variations lower in added sugar) 
  • Home-made muffins or frittatas (made in a muffin tray), packed with grated veggies such as zucchini and carrot.
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet, and keeping healthy snacks to hand is the best way to ensure that your energy levels remain steady, so you'll be less likely to feel ‘hangry’, grumpy and irritable.
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