GET REAL GUIDE to Hanger (low blood sugar)

January 25, 2016
hangry low blood sugar main image

Look, we all try our best to be healthy. But let’s get real, the day you need my help is not when you’re at your best; it’s when you’ve had a total meltdown because you waited way too long to eat.

Let’s get real, you’re hangry.

Maybe you snapped at your partner, or maybe you had a full on adult tantrum. Wherever you fall on the graph below, I’m here to help.

hangry low blood sugar graph

Symptoms of low blood sugar can include headache, irritability, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, fatigue, blurry vision and confusion, to name a few. 1,2.

Sound familiar? Yikes, me too

Before we talk about what YOU can do to avoid low blood sugar (aka Being Hangry!), there are some body basics we need to go over first.

What’s Going On In Your Body:

What’s the deal with Insulin and low blood sugar?

To understand low blood sugar, you need to understand how insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, influences blood sugar levels.

When you eat, glucose (sugar) enters the bloodstream and the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin’s #1 job is to get glucose from the bloodstream into hungry cells. Insulin unlocks cells so glucose can enter. Without insulin, cells remain locked and can’t take in glucose. Your cells then convert glucose into energy. The result of this process is lowered blood sugar as glucose moves out of bloodstream and into cells.

Need a visual? This short video makes this information easier to understand.

Refined Carbs + Over Production of Insulin = Cycle of Low Blood Sugar

Do you notice that when you have low blood sugar, you crave simple carbohydrates like white bread, bagels, muffins or potato chips? Your cravings are not coincidental. You crave these foods because they’re the fastest way to get food to your hangry cells. It takes very little effort to break down a piece of, say, white bread into glucose molecules.

You eat kettle chips when you're hangry image

However, refined, processed carbs are the last things you should turn to when you’re hangry.

When you eat something processed and full of refined flour and sugar, blood sugar rises too quickly because of all the glucose flooding your system. This rush of glucose causes the pancreas to produce too much insulin, which then lowers blood sugar too fast. The result? You get low blood sugar after you’ve eaten and this dangerous cycle continues.

Let’s break it down step-by-step using the example of a plain bagel:

  1. You chow down on your bagel…
  2. Your blood sugar goes from being low to very high in an extremely short period. Your body doesn’t have to do much work for that bagel to break into individual molecules of glucose (food for your cells).
  3. The dramatic spike in blood sugar sends insulin production into overdrive.
  4. Your pancreas floods the bloodstream with insulin in response to rush of glucose.
  5. A surge of insulin rapidly unlocks your cells sweeping glucose from the blood stream into hungry cells.
  6. As a result, your blood sugar is lowered too quickly.

In contrast, when you eat something like a bagel with lox & avocado, the fat and protein slow down this process.

Have lox and avocado on your bagel to prevent low blood sugar image

Glucose enters your bloodstream at a slower, steadier pace over a longer period. As a result, blood sugar stays stable. It’s less of a feeding frenzy/binge eating episode and more of a leisurely European-style dinner.

Real Solutions During Crisis Mode:

So, now that you understand how insulin helps feed your cells and why you don’t want to eat simple carbohydrate when you’re hangry, let’s talk about the best way to help yourself during a hangry crisis.

Put down those chips and chose a meal with a protein and/or fat alongside your carbohydrates. Protein and fat don’t raise blood sugar like carbohydrates do.

For example, how about:

6 oz. wild salmon (p/f) with 1 baked sweet potato (c), a tbs of ghee or butter (f) and a steamed side of asparagus (C)


3 oz. of grass fed steak (p/f) cooked in ghee (f) served with ½ cup quinoa (c/p), 1-cup arugula salad (c) tossed in 1 tbsp olive oil (f) with 2 tbs walnuts (f/p)


2 fried eggs (p/f) over ½ cup brown rice (c) & 1 smashed avocado (f/c)

These meals would make for better-balanced blood sugar than say, a big bowl of pasta or even a salad with low fat vegetable soup (<– not enough fat or protein).

How you can you proactively prevent future hangry episodes?

Snack smart. When combined, protein, fat and carbohydrates form the perfect blood sugar balancing snack. Try one of these combinations:

  •  2 hardboiled eggs and a tangerine
  •  A banana or apple dipped in 2 tbsp almond butter
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds and ¼ cup blueberries
  • Greek yogurt with raspberries
  • Sliced veggies dipped in hummus
  • 1 piece multigrain toast with ½ avocado spread on top
  • ¼ cup walnuts with 2 tbsp dark chocolate chips
  • Prosciutto wrapped nectarine slices 

snack of apple and cashews image


Eat regularly. If your stomach is growling, you’ve waited too long.

Limit alcohol, which lowers blood sugar. When you do drink, pair alcohol with protein and healthy fat rich food. Say, a piece of vegetable frittata and a couple of almonds with that mimosa.

Finally, why should you care?

Chronically low blood sugar can lead to serious health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, seriously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can result in seizures and even death.

Today we’re talking about very mild and occasional low blood sugar (being hangry!). However, if you’re struggling with what feels like chronic or serious low blood sugar, time for a trip to your trusty MD/ND or nutritionist for support.

Join the Conversation!

Do you get hangry? What’s your go-to snack to prevent hangry episodes?

Anna Walker signature image




The above post is part of my new Monday series–GET REAL GUIDES–which delivers real advice for when your life feels like a hot mess. Unexplained bloating, adult acne, cravings and hangovers, I’m looking at you!

In less than 4 minutes, you can learn valuable tools to successfully tackle relevant (and inevitable) life challenges related to health and nutrition. Because let’s be real, life isn’t all rainbows and kale salads.

Interested in more? Click “GET REAL GUIDES” on the navigation bar to at the top of the page.

Please read my disclaimer. This article is not intended to act as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or lifestyle.

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  • Reply sandra January 25, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Often I’m feeling hangry by 5 p.m. and with dinner not until at least 7 or 7:30, I’m going to try one of your snack ideas, but since I am allergic to nuts, I’ll go with the avacado, hummus, or seed butter routine. I’m hoping this will also help with over-eating at dinner, which I often do. :-

    • Reply Anna January 25, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Great idea! Try having a bigger snack around 4/4:30 before you’re hangry

  • Reply Joanne January 25, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    So I guess the British high tea is out? Half a sandwich works for me. Now I know why. Thanks for the info !

    • Reply Anna January 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Haha! Yes, probably not the best choice but at least the cucumber tea sandwiches have some cream cheese (fat)

  • Reply Bethany @ Athletic Avocado January 31, 2016 at 6:21 am

    Great article! I always seem to get up to the highest level of hangry-ness because I never prepare! Now I know I need to store some snacks!

    • Reply Anna January 31, 2016 at 7:11 am

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m totally the same way.

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