There are many different types of hunger: You could have hunger for shopping, hunger for knowledge, hunger for love or, of course, hunger for food. But that burning desire to eat something doesn't always stem from being physically hungry, when your stomach rumbles and you have a gnawing, empty feeling. There are times when you may have the hunger for food when you feel tired, bored, depressed or annoyed. Being hungry and angry could be a recipe for disaster, and there’s even some science to prove it.
In a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found a correlation between being hungry, feeling angry and having low blood sugar. These results are not surprising. I know I may be dating myself, but I remember that years ago there was a TV commercial for Campbell's soup. It depicted a man walking in the door after a long day of work, and instead of having a regular human head, he had the head of a lion. The man then sat down to a steamy bowl of soup, and the voice in the ad said something like, “turn your husband from a lion into a lamb.” And sure enough, once he ate some food, his head morphed from the angry king of the jungle into that of a happy, calm lamb.
If it was that easy to turn around a bad mood, we’d all be eating soup or something else to soothe us in times of distress, but that could lead to an even greater obesity crisis than we're already facing. Many people turn to food to seek comfort, but choosing the wrong foods will only result in discomfort. To help keep your emotions in check while holding blood sugar levels stable, here are tips to satisfy your tummy and bring a smile to your face:
Pick a powerful combo. A snack or meal containing only one food group will not do the trick. You need a blend of nutrients to prevent that roller-coaster feeling. Whole-grain carbs raise serotonin levels to give your blood sugar a boost and provide that "ahhh" feeling. Carbs get digested faster than protein and fat. Good sources are whole-grain breads, cereals, whole-wheat pasta, beans and so on. Protein such as turkey, chicken, fish, cheese and tofu, as well as healthy fats such as nuts, avocado and oils are digested more slowly to give you staying power and keep you feeling fuller longer. In other words, a quick handful of pretzels in the afternoon could have you snapping at co-workers in no time, but if you dip those pretzels into almond butter, you'll be more productive and perhaps a little more pleasant, too.
[Read: 10 Ways to Break a Bad Mood.]
Don’t skip meals. If you miss a meal, you miss the opportunity to provide energy to your mind and body. Waiting too long between the times that you eat can create a drop in blood sugar, which could become seriously dangerous in some cases, causing lightheadedness, a faint feeling or disorientation. You should not go more than four to five hours between meals, and for most of us, snacking between meals is essential.
Snack smart. According to a study conducted by The Hartman Group, 73 percent of snacking is physically driven, 36 percent is emotionally driven and 28 percent is socially or culturally driven, with some of these occasions overlapping.
Just like with meals, the tried and true trio that will keep you going without blowing a fuse is a medley of protein, fat and carbs. Whether it's a slice of cheese and whole grain crackers, cereal atop Greek yogurt or a homemade trail mix, be sure to keep these on-the-go snacks handy so you have them readily available when you feel your mood diving into a meltdown. And if you're choosing an energy bar, be sure not to pick one that will create the opposite effect – bars that are not balanced with a little bit of each nutrient will zap your energy instead of providing a boost.
Know your sugars. Keeping blood sugar stable doesn't mean you should do so with sugar per se. Although sugar fuels the brain to help you stay alert and exert self-control, foods that list sugar or any of its cohorts (high fructose corn syrup, organic cane juice, sucrose and such) as starring roles on their ingredient lists can make you initially feel content, but then lead to a crashing sensation soon after ingestion. Go for items that list whole grains as a first ingredient and contain a good source of fiber (around 5 grams per serving).
As your mother taught you, when you feel the pressure mounting, and your inner volcano is getting ready to explode, it might be best to count to 10 before you open your mouth to say something you might regret. And while you're counting, grab a snack.
[See: U.S. News' Best Diets.]