Monday Medical: Don’t let hanger get the best of you

Lindsey Reznicek
Monday Medical

Has it been a while since your last snack or meal? Maybe a little too long? Is your hunger making you angry?

There’s a difference between being hungry and being hangry.

“Hunger is the normal biological function of, ‘It’s time to eat.’ Food has metabolized through the body and your blood sugar is doing down,” said Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Hanger, on the other hand, occurs when hunger has gone too far. You’ve gone too long without eating and your blood glucose is extremely low, causing you to become irritable.”

Marrs shares more about hanger, what your body is telling you in those moments, how to stave it off and some of her favorite hanger-preventing snacks, below.

Why it occurs

Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, occurs when a person has gone too long without eating. In those moments, your body needs sugar in the form of a carbohydrate.

“With blood sugar, we want to see ocean waves instead of mountain peaks,” said Marrs. “Say you have a hot chocolate and a donut for breakfast. Your blood sugar is going to quickly spike up one side of a mountain and crash back down the other side. When it does, your body will want more of the same. But, if you have oatmeal with nuts, berries and flax — which gives your body carbs with protein, fat and fiber — you’ll create a nice ocean wave of energy that is more sustainable.”

While the body stores carbs, or sugar, for energy, it can only store so much, which is why eating regularly is key. Marrs stresses it’s important to be mindful of what you’re eating so the wave of energy and nutrients can continue to flow. Otherwise, hanger can set in.

Incorporate nutritional building blocks

Whether it’s a snack or meal, Marrs encourages people to eat protein, fiber, good fat and carbs.

“I’ve analyzed diets for over 15 years and would say that for 90% of people, these building blocks are key to daily functioning,” said Marrs. “The amount of each and the calories each person requires may differ, but the components are standard as to what works.”

Take a lunchtime salad consisting of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes.

“You’re getting a good amount of vegetables, but that salad isn’t going to stick with you very long, which will cause your blood sugar to fall, which could lead to hunger or even hanger in the afternoon,” said Marrs. “But, if you add some chicken or tuna for protein, perhaps sliced avocado or a handful of nuts as a healthy fat, maybe some apple for a complex carb and quinoa to incorporate some fiber, you will be satisfied a lot longer.”

Snack wisely

Many people fall into an “afternoon slump,” be it from too much caffeine early in the day, skipping breakfast or a lunch that doesn’t incorporate the right nutrients.

“Some people may need more snacks than others, whether it’s due to an insufficient amount of nutrients in what they ate earlier in the day or because of having a faster metabolism,” said Marrs. “Snacks are helpful in keeping the ocean waves consistent, as long as your snack delivers nutrients.”

Hummus and crackers will give you carbs for energy as well as protein and fat to keep you full. Popcorn with olive oil, a little salt and pepper and a dusting of nutritional yeast will do the same. So will a smoothie of berries, banana, a handful of kale or spinach, a scoop of protein powder, some nuts and a splash of water or your favorite milk.

“When standing before the snack cabinet or deciding what to toss in your bag in case you get hungry during the day, ask yourself if what you are picking will give you energy and if it’ll keep you satiated and full,” said Marrs. “You don’t want all carbs, but you don’t want no carbs. Blood sugar regulation is key throughout the day.”

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications strategist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

Marrs’ top hanger relieving snacks

When choosing a snack, Cara Marrs, registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, encourages the incorporation of protein, fiber, healthy fat and carbs. Some of her favorite snacks include:
• Apple slices and nut butter.
• Dates stuffed with nut butter.
• Cheese and seeded crackers.
• Tuna packet with flax seed crackers.
• Snack bar that offers a mix of protein and carbs.

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