Drop the carbs and get off the hangry roller coaster

  • Registered Dietitian Courtney Southwood of AMITA Health Weight Loss Solutions

    Registered Dietitian Courtney Southwood of AMITA Health Weight Loss Solutions

Posted1/27/2020 1:00 AM

It's 3 p.m. and you're craving a sweetened coffee beverage, a bag of chips, a freshly baked cookie or some other type of "junk" food. You know it's probably best to not give into this craving, but it's almost impossible to resist, out of habit or out of the sheer need to curb the feelings of irritability and sluggishness you're experiencing.

If you're on the hangry roller coaster, 3 o'clock is not the only time you'll notice an increase in appetite, irritability and cravings. You'll actually experience this cycle every few hours. We often hear "hangry" referred to as a state associated with being angry because you've gone several hours without eating resulting in hunger. However most people experience another type of hangry associated with fluctuating blood sugar levels.


The foods you eat have a major impact on how blood sugar levels ebb and flow, according to Registered Dietitian Courtney Southwood, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., of AMITA Health Weight Loss Solutions.

All carbohydrates become sugar once they enter the body. That sugar is then transported to our body's cells via insulin, which gives us energy throughout the day.

However, some carbohydrates are converted to sugar much more quickly than others, causing our blood sugar to spike and then fall rapidly because of an exaggerated insulin response. When you ingest refined carbohydrates -- like those found in boxed cereals, bread, juices and sweetened beverages -- the "hangry" roller coaster is set in motion. After the initial spike in blood sugar the fallout occurs a few hours later when your blood sugar dips below normal levels, leaving you sluggish, irritable, hungry and craving more refined carbohydrates.

Without changing your diet, this cycle will continue every few hours, but just a few small changes to your meals and snacks can help stop the hangry roller coaster for good, Southwood says.

One of the quickest ways to reduce spikes in blood sugar is eliminating any sugar-filled beverages from your diet. Even 100 percent fruit juice contains more concentrated sugar than desired. Try to stick to plain water, sparkling water or fruit-infused water as much as possible. If you're looking to ditch sweetener in your coffee but still hoping for richness and flavor, try swapping sugar for full fat half-and-half or heavy whipping cream.

When making or purchasing meals, make sure that your plate consists of protein, fiber, fats and vegetables whenever possible. Instead of grabbing a bagel and glass of juice for breakfast, consider having a vegetable omelet, which contains the protein, fiber and fats needed to stabilize blood sugar and keep the hangry roller coaster at bay.

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