Have you experienced hangry? I recently got called on it. I had worked myself into a snit in conversation with my friend when she turned to me and said, “When’s the last time you ate?” I looked at her wide-eyed, and thought, Oh my God! When was the last time?
I work really hard and forget to eat. I lose track of time and my blood sugar runs a little low. At that point, I’m slipping into fight or flight and my mood is taking a dramatic dip. Have you thought through how deeply hangry can affect your productivity, your behavior, your relationships—and why?
An article in the Washington Post this month entitled “If you’ve ever been hangry, this is what your body may be telling you” got me thinking about the whys of hangry, and how much it makes perfect sense! All your neurotransmitters are cycling through your enteric nervous system. If you’re not feeding and nourishing your brain, your mood’s gonna dip! Things that would never irritate you normally are suddenly the most monumental issues in the world. I get possessed! Who is that person? Angry, irritable, upset-out-of-nowhere and often doesn’t even realize it!
As soon as I feed myself, usually a good combination of fat, protein and carbs (enter the nut or seed), I go from possessed… back to my normal self. That little goblin goes away. Is it literally that simple? Yes.
To avoid hangry, start by rethinking food
We need to start thinking about food not just as satiating our hunger but also supporting our mood. Our gut talks to our brain. If that appetite center is screaming and we don’t hear it or we feed it the wrong thing it’s going to affect the way we feel. If we’re getting angry, upset or discombobulated, it’s time to think about when and what we last ate.
To be clear: that little package of pretzels or candy you grab at the shop near work does NOT count as feeding your brain. If you eat donuts and coffee in the morning you’ll start crashing. It messes with your blood sugar, but you also haven’t fed your brain what it needs.
My colleague Drew Ramsey MD, psychiatrist, author and farmer and founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York City, writes wonderfully on this topic. His excellent book Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Bainpower, Boost Weight Loss and Transform Your Health is exceptionally good on feeding the brain and eating to beat depression.
What does food have to do with brain health? he asks. Everything. His book shares cutting-edge science on food, the brain, and well-being, and shows you what your body needs and why. With delicious recipes, too!
Food strategy for wellbeing
If hangry is a problem for you, tweak your food strategy.
My number one tip: always have a brain-healthy snack in your purse, your pocket, your desk drawer, your backpack, your travel tote. A portable nibble, in case of an emergency. You could be held up in traffic… you never know. My choice is usually in the nuts or seed category. They’re durable. It doesn’t take much to flip the switch. A handful of nuts can make a huge difference when you’re hangry. And that works equally well for hangry children!
If you have sensitivity to nuts, seeds can work. Sunflower butter. Pumpkin seeds. Also your brain is made of 60% fat, so something with healthy fat, such as avocado, salmon jerky, or olives can work wonders. Everybody’s going to have their thing.
Brain food nibbles and nosh.
These are great, at home or on the road!
Nuts are little superstars when it comes to improving brain function; cashews are phenomenal at promoting good blood circulation so plenty of oxygen gets to the brain. That’s the nutritional reason to eat cashews, but the taste alone should convince you! Here, I’ve deconstructed a complex curry to create a nice, quick, easy-to-make study snack, using shredded coconut, curry, a smidge of maple syrup, and, of course, the cashews. Take them to work and I promise your colleagues will be envious. So be a do-gooder and share.
This is pure aromatherapy. There’s nothing like the smell of baking apple pie to raise the spirits, so in this recipe I pulled together the spices that make apple pie special and gave them a new home—walnuts. Walnuts, with all their nooks and crannies, catch all the spices, especially after they’re coated with a little olive oil and maple syrup (just writing this is making me practically salivate). Walnuts happen to be loaded with the omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid, which in animal studies exerted an antidepressant effect. Tossing them with plump raisins is the kicker.
This one reminded me of how Edison must’ve felt inventing the lightbulb: it took a lot of tries, but once I hit on the right formula, shazam! I knew we had a winner when I walked into my husband’s office, brittle in hand. He was so deep in thought at his computer screen that he didn’t even see me. I just said, “Gregg . . . open mouth.” In went the brittle, his eyes still glued to the screen. “Gregg . . . close mouth. Chew.” I was halfway down the hall when I finally heard his voice echo off the walls: “This is REALLY good!” And so it is, for the tongue and for the brain. The sesame seeds are full of zinc, the pumpkin seeds are like little mini antidepressants, and the sunflower seeds are loaded with vitamin E, which helps memory, learning, and overall mood.