Have you noticed that if you skip a meal, you start to get cranky, irritable or hangry??
What exactly is hangry?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it originated in the 1950s and is a blend of hungry and angry.
Bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger. (A)
Hangry, it seems, may be caused by a hypoglycaemic episode as your sugar levels drop when you skip meals or eat a diet rich in processed high sugar content foods. Eating regular meals with good quality protein and a variety of whole foods is important in stabilising blood sugar levels and now it seems may be as important in stabilising your mood!
Managing hypoglycaemia is about making smart food choices continually during the day.
Choose Low GI (glycaemic index) fruits and vegetables, a nutrient rich diet mainly consisting of whole foods, eat adequate good quality protein, the right fats and make sure you are having enough fibre in your diet– these will all help to curb your hangry!
For centuries food has been used to heal and to treat. Hippocrates was the first to suggest the power of food to heal and the medicinal value it has. In medieval times – foods like chicory and lettuce were used as tranquilizers, whilst dates and elderberries were used to improve mood. Modern research though has begun to investigate and correlate the role of diet and food choices in mental health. (1)
Links between depression and diet have been demonstrated in numereous studies. Many vitamins and minerals are necessary for ensuring our mental wellbeing, of particular interest are thiamine (vitamin B1), folate, iron, vitamin C and B12. A few studies have demonstrated higher scores for anxiety and depression in anaemic females and also highlighted that those taking the oral contraceptive pill may be even more at risk of developing depression. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide; particularly among females, vegetarians and vegans. In another study poor thiamine status has been demonstrated to be associated with traits like decreased self-confidence, introversion, low moods and lethargy. According to Benton & Donohue, a British double-blind placebo control study of 120 adult females highlighted that administering a thiamine supplement improved energy, composure and participants reported feeling more clear headed. (2,3,4)
Do you use food as comfort, a tub of ice cream to soothe? Do you “eat your emotions” with high carbohydrate, sugary foods? Don’t feel bad – you are not alone.
There is considerable scientific evidence demonstrating that consuming carbohydrate rich sugary foods has a direct effect on mood and raising brain serotonin levels. (1)
According to Benton & Donohoe – the “food with the greatest impact on mood is chocolate”. People who “crave chocolate do so when they feel emotionally low.”
An interesting aspect though; regarding the data surrounding high carbohydrate intake and the impact on mood, is that in many of the studies it is unclear whether craving and eating high carbohydrate foods leads to mood improvement or whether people who are depressed or suffer from emotional lows eat more carbohydrates and sugar rich foods? (2,5,6)
Here are a few general recommendations of what to include in your diet to help maintain stable moods.
- Whole food diet – packed with vitamins and minerals.
Many studies have demonstrated a link between diet quality and depression. In one study involving more than 10,000 Spanish adults, a lower incidence of depression was seen in those consuming a diet rich in whole foods, fresh produce, fruit, vegetables and whole grains – a nutrient dense whole food diet. (5, 7)
- Essential Fatty Acids – found in fatty fish.
There is evidence to suggest that regular consumption of fatty fish (foods high in essential fatty acids) are associated with reduced episodes of depression. (8)
- Enough good quality protein
Not only is enough good quality protein important in your diet to aid health, weight loss and stabilise blood sugar levels – but once again it is also important it seems in stabilising your mood.
Protein is important in the synthesis of neurotransmitters which play a key role in our mood regulation. For example, it has been proposed that tryptophan, an amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin in the body, may have a role in reducing depressive symptoms. Because tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin, known to some as the “feel good” hormone or “happy chemical” it plays a role in our happiness and our general mental well-being.
Foods that boost serotonin levels; are foods like salmon, eggs, spinach, seeds, milk and nuts (5)
What should you exclude from your diet?
- Alcohol and caffeine may exacerbate anxiety or depression. Alcohol is a depressant and may be misused. Caffeine may also deplete the body of essential nutrients necessary for mental well-being including vitamin B’s and magnesium. In one pilot study, depression in adolescents was positively correlated to caffeine intake. (5)
Don’t forget next time you get the urge to grab the tub of ice cream– THINK before you grab and use other tools to lift your mood and boost your serotonin levels.
- EAT clean
- Get out into the SUNSHINE for your daily dose of vitamin D
- BREATHE – deep breathing or alternate nostril breathing
- Surround yourself with NATURE and POSITIVE people to improve your feeling of wellbeing and happiness
- SOCIALISE and get involved! Be a part of a local community and CONNECT with like-minded people
- Prasad,1998, Food, mood and health: a neurobiologic outlook, Brazilian Journal of medical and biological Research, 31:1517-1527
- Benton D and Donohoe RT, 1999, The effects of Nutrients on mood, Department of psychology, Public health nutrition 2(3a), 403-409
- Rangan, AM, Blight, GD, Binns, CW. Iron status and non-specific symptoms of female students. Amer. Coll. Nutr. 1998; 17: 351–5
- Quintas, M, Requejo, AM, Ortega, RM, Redondo, MR, Lopez-Sobaler, AM, Gaspar, MJ. The female Spanish population: a group at risk of nutritional iron deficiency. J. Food Sci. Nutr.1997; 48: 271–9
- Hechtman L,2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Elsevier Australia, chp 18
- Christensen L, Somers S. Comparison of nutrient intake among depressed and nondepressed individuals. J. Eat. Disord 1996;20:5-9
- Sanchez-Villegas A et al, Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra follow up cohort.Arch Gen Psychiatry 2009
- Astorg P et al, Association of fish and long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intakes with the occurrence of depressive episodes in middle-aged French men and women. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes. Ess. Fatty Acids, 2008; 78:171-82