By Kayla Rillie, Registered Dietitian
Do you find yourself susceptible to waves of anxiety or depression that manifest several times throughout the day? Do you find yourself in a bad mood or feeling angry around meal times? If so, chances are you are susceptible to food swings! You read that right, I said food swing – a mood swing that occurs simply because you are hungry…or hangry!
Hunger and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are primitive signals known to set off a stress response in the body, and for many, this stress response can cause anxiety and depression. Triggered by drops and fluctuations in blood sugar, these mental health issues can become chronic if food intake isn’t consistent.
Humans, like all animals, are designed to get energy from the food we eat. Without that energy, our bodies wouldn’t be able to function properly. Those feelings of anxiety, anger, and irritability we get when our blood sugar dips is actually a brilliant mechanism that ensured our great, great, great ancestors made foraging and hunting for food a priority. This helped them to avoid starvation and maintain the energy to survive in even the cruelest of conditions.
Nowadays, low blood sugar, and the negative effect it has on mood, can be a bit more challenging to navigate. Where more primitive animals would simply be spurred into food-finding mode, our more complex human brains often register the feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger, and attribute them to other root causes. We blame our bad moods on our jobs…relationships…our astrological signs…everything but the real offender – low blood sugar. Worse still, feeling depressed or stressed prompts many of us to reach for soda, candy, or chips. But junk food is no more than a Band-Aid on the problem – we feel better temporarily, but the blood sugar fluctuations only keep the cycle going.
So can we keep blood sugar levels steady and avoid any hangry outbursts? Try following the 7 rules below to stop riding those food swings once and for all.
1.) Eat regularly – every 2-3 hours
2.) Aim for balance. Meals should include:
- Protein (wild seafood, grass-fed meats, eggs, beans, cheese)
- Fat (avocado, nut oils, cheese, nut butters)
- Complex Carbs (brown rice, sweet potato, whole grains bread)
3.) Include snacks
- Try an apple with almond butter, raw nut and seed mix with dark chocolate chips, or carrots and hummus
4.) Reduce the amount of simple carbs (such as cakes, cookies, and breads) that you consume. Keep these as occasional treats. And if you are treating yourself, consider pairing the simply carb with some fat and/or protein to prevent that quick blood sugar drop later.
5.) Include fiber-rich foods. Adequate dietary fiber helps blood sugar remain stable by slowing entrance of sugar into the blood stream and prevents crashing.
6.) Try Chromium. Small doses of Chromium can prevent blood sugar dips and spikes. 200mcg of Chromium once a day in the morning can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
7.) Take B Vitamins. B-vitamins aid in carbohydrate metabolism and are critical for many other functions in the body. These vitamins are water-soluble and can easily be depleted by stress, carbohydrate consumption and environmental stressors.