Are you 'hangry'?

Are you 'hangry'?

When faced with major decisions such as whether to accept a marriage proposal or job offer, or start a family, most of us apply considerable thought before choosing to go one way or another. But while it might help to have a clear head when pondering such life-changing events, it isn’t a good idea to have an empty belly. In fact, being hungry, and as a consequence ratty, might lead to huge errors of judgment, according to a new study. And the results could prove catastrophic. We could end up with the wrong mate, a job we hate, or even with a brood we weren’t quite ready for.

Researchers have discovered that being hungry and angry at the same time – “hangry” is the newly coined term – can drastically affect our decision-making skills. So much so that we are 62 percent more likely to get things wrong. The study, led by food psychologist Dr Christy Fergusson and commissioned by malt loaf makers Soreen, involved a series of clinical trials conducted on a group of men and women between their early 20s and mid-60s. The aim was to find out what makes people angry when they are hungry and how this affects cognitive function.

The participants were put into groups of four and then forced to listen to irritating sounds played on repeat for five minutes, after not eating for several hours. These included the sound of a baby crying, a phone ringing and continuous sniffing. Straight afterwards they were asked to answer a series of brain-teasing questions. Each group was then allowed a break in which they were given healthy carbo-hydrate and protein snacks before being subjected to the same test with a different series of brain-teaser questions. Initially, less than a third, 27 percent of participants who had gone for at least four hours without food, managed to find the correct solutions to the problems. But after the snack break almost half, 48 percent, could.

Only 129 out of 480 questions were answered correctly while participants were hungry – compared with 231 questions while not hungry. Interestingly, female participants were found to respond best on a fuller stomach, with a 30 percent improvement in their ability to make decisions after satisfying their hunger. Among men, this figure was 10 percent.

The groups were also asked to rate their levels of irritation both, before and after eating. Post-food, levels of annoyance dropped by 40 percent. The participants also reported feeling calmer, happier and more cooperative. The findings back up the theory that a low-level of blood sugar not only brings on mood swings, but can also cause even the most rational people to lose their ability to think clearly, meaning they might make rash and sometimes risky decisions.

Keeping up with the pace
“Many of us are now skipping meals because we are so busy with work and life, and we aren’t eating as regularly as we need to,” says Christy, who was the resident food psychologist on the Channel 4 programme Secret Eaters. “Some people have breakfast and then don’t eat again until early evening, drinking coffee to keep them going, and this causes huge fluctuations in blood glucose. Our brains need a fresh dose of glucose every three to four hours to work properly and enable us to concentrate fully. We also need it for energy. So if we go for long periods without ‘feeding’ the brain, we end up irritable and in a bad mood.”

Previous studies have shown that mothers who don’t eat regularly are more likely to shout at their children, and that employees who skip lunch are less productive. But Christy’s study shows that skipping meals affects judgment, too. “It is becoming a bit of a modern-day phenomenon,” she says, “and it’s something most of us aren’t even aware of. We think we are overstressed or out of sorts, yet a lot of the time we are just ‘hangry’. We aren’t giving our brains and bodies the macronutrients they need.”

The brain works best with around 25gm of glucose circulating in the bloodstream at any given time, which equates to the amount found in one banana. But it isn’t just the volume of glucose that’s important – the source is, too. Eating a biscuit or slice of cake might give us a sudden surge of energy-boosting sugar, but it will be short-lived. This is because these types of carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream quickly, providing around 20 minutes of alertness, after which levels drop rapidly, leaving us anxious and unable to focus well. Eating a small bowl of porridge, however, which is a slow-acting carbohydrate, releases a similar amount of glucose but over a much longer period, meaning we feel the positive effects for hours afterwards.

“That’s why it’s important to eat natural, wholesome foods every three to four hours,” says Christy. “The brain can’t store glucose. It’s also why I suggest people who decide to do a cleansing detox should take the day off work and sit at home and relax. With low levels of glucose in their systems, they are better off being in peaceful environments that don’t tax them too much mentally.”

So if you haven’t had time to squeeze in a lunch break or snack between meetings on Monday, it might just be wise to hold off buying a sports car or eloping to New Mexico.

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