You’ve been there way too many times before – it’s an hour or so after lunch, you’re feeling drained or maybe a little stressed, and hungry! So you reach for some food to fix your mood.

Unfortunately, what happens next could make you feel worse, not better, according to Jocelyn Sherman, RD, of Butler Hospital.

“Snacking is important, but often when we want to snack, we’re either not really hungry or we reach for things that won’t actually sustain us and could even make us feel worse, especially because blood glucose levels (BGLs) have a direct impact on our mood,” Sherman explains.

How glucose levels affect mood

According to Sherman, your brain needs steady levels of blood glucose to function at its best. Because BGLs directly affect your mood, it is important to maintain stable levels throughout the day and evening. When your BGLs are too high or too low, you might experience negative feelings.

If your blood glucose is too low (hypoglycemic), you might feel:

  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Irritable
  • Overwhelmingly tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • That your moods are swinging from one extreme to another

If your blood glucose is too high (hyperglycemic), you may feel:

  • Overwhelmingly tired
  • Difficulty concentrating

“The best thing to do in a those situations is first evaluate whether you are truly hungry,” Sherman says.

She teaches patients to practice “HALT,” an acronym to remember to first ask if you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. You could even add another “T” to that and ask yourself are you’re just thirsty, a sensation often mistaken for hunger.
“You will naturally be tired if you’ve been sitting at your desk for two straight hours. In that case, the best thing to do is take a quick walk to clear your head,” Sherman says. “If you’re angry, journal about it. Lonely? Reach out to a friend. Addressing your body and mind’s real needs helps you to avoid impulsive eating that can make you feel worse.”

And, if you really are hungry, have a healthy snack. Avoid sweets, which give us an immediate but short-lived boost.

“The key is to eat something with complex carbohydrates, fiber and a little protein that will sustain your BGLs longer, giving you a much more satisfied feeling,” says Sherman, who recommends the following snack combos:

  • An apple with peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt that has carbohydrates, protein and calcium
  • Pretzels with low-fat string cheese
  • Pita chips with hummus

Both high and low blood glucose levels are directly impacted by stress. In addition to eating right and exercising, learning how to manage stress is a key factor in maintaining a better mood.