A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Hangry? Why food affects your mood

Hangry illustration

Blood glucose, hormones and the neurotransmitter serotonin cause the “hangry” feeling you get when it’s been a few hours since your last meal.

You know what it feels like to be “hangry” if you’ve ever snapped at someone a few hours after your last meal.

“Hunger is a human instinct in response to the body’s need to find food and stay alive,” said Chrisanne Urban, a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian.

Hangry, a mixture of the words hungry and angry, refers to people’s tendency to be short-tempered when they’re due for a meal.

Why do we get hangry?

Your brain depends on glucose from the food you eat to function well. Blood glucose levels drop as time passes since your last meal.

When blood glucose levels fall far enough, you’ll start to notice changes in your mood and mental function. You may have trouble concentrating, feel grumpy or find yourself unable to keep from snapping at friends and family.

Hormones also play a role in feeling hungry, Urban said. Ghrelin, the appetite-increasing hormone, plays a role in how quickly hunger comes back after you eat. Grehlin levels typically go down for three hours after a meal and then you’ll start to feel hungry again.

Brain scans of hungry people have shown lower levels of serotonin, a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter. Low serotonin levels are linked to anger and aggression.

Simple hanger solutions

Curing hanger is as easy as eating a snack.

Unfortunately, you may find yourself reaching for chips and candy when you’re hungry and grumpy. You’ll feel better for a while after eating these snacks, but you’ll be hangry again soon.

Reach for fruit, nuts or whole-grain carbs instead to boost serotonin and keep you full longer. Better yet, don’t let your hunger turn to hanger.

These healthful eating tips from Urban will prevent you from feeling hangry:

  • Don’t skip meals. Eat reasonable portions throughout the day.
  • Meal plan so you don’t find bare shelves when you start feeling hungry.
  • Carry healthful snacks. A combination of fiber and protein will help you feel full and prevent hanger.
  • Avoid crash diets. They don’t work and may leave you feeling hungry. Eat a balanced diet of more whole and fresh foods instead.

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