It’s a common tale: You’ve just eaten a big meal and an hour later, you’re already hungry. Why is that? Dips in our blood sugar prompt “hunger pangs two to three hours after eating a meal”–as well as dips in energy and mood–according to Professor Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of Zoe. If you’re someone whose energy tumbles off a cliff at 4 p.m., then chances are it’s due to plunging blood sugar levels.
This occurs after we’ve eaten refined, carbohydrate- or sugar-rich foods, which spike our blood sugar–and what goes up must come down. According to research by Professor Spector and his team at Zoe–who surveyed 1,000 people–one in three men and one in four women experience these sugar dips regularly.
Not only are they associated with mood and energy changes, but also with eating your “next meal 30 minutes before people who don’t have these dips,” Professor Spector explains. These people tend to eat, on average, 300 extra calories over the course of the day.
While it’s not unusual to experience hunger so soon after you’ve eaten–even Professor Spector, an expert in how food impacts the body, admits his diet was affected by fluctuating blood sugar in the past–that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, either. The good news is you can prevent sugar dips and subsequently prevent the never-ending hunger, while keeping your mood and energy levels balanced too.
If this sounds like you, here’s a few expert tips on what you should do.
Eat a balanced breakfast
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day–if you choose to eat it. Professor Spector switched his muesli–many kinds of which create blood sugar spikes and dips–for full fat yogurt with nuts and seeds, which keep him going until lunch, no snacks required. He recommends adding a source of healthy fats, fiber and/or protein to every meal to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Do some exercise
One of Professor Spector’s top tips is to engage in exercise, so make movement a priority in your daily routine. Bonus points for resistance training or anything that will help you to build muscle: “Muscle mass acts as a reservoir for sugar, removing it from the blood to use as fuel,” explains Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist and founder of Artah. “When we lack muscle mass, it becomes harder to get rid of excess blood sugar, which makes us more susceptible to insulin and blood sugar spikes.”
Make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes
Sounds niche, but one of the best things I did to help ward off my own hunger pangs was to introduce a daily helping of electrolytes into my diet, on Stephenson’s advice. “Electrolytes are needed for the body to function properly and influence everything from cognition and mood to energy and appetite,” she explains. “When these essential minerals are imbalanced, the body increases appetite and cravings in an attempt to replenish the nutrients it needs, which can create a false sense of hunger.” When looking for an option, avoid sugar-rich, electrolyte-infused energy drinks.