October 15, 2012

The Insomniac’s Diet

If you toss and turn during the night, rather than sleep like a baby, the road to dreamland  might be in your kitchen, not the medicine cabinet.

Forget everything you’ve heard about tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy or warm milk helping you drift off. Research shows the highway to sleepy time is a cup of something warm and soothing, like a cup of relaxing herbal tea and a high carb snack – no protein, no cocoa, no alcohol nightcap, just carbs plain and simple.

Several herbal teas might help with sleep,  including chamomile, lemon balm, and hops. One study found that valerian extract helped insomniacs drop off to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Other studies found no improvements.  If nothing else, the warm liquid soothes and relaxes you.

A light, all-carb snack boosts levels of the brain’s sleep chemical – serotonin. When serotonin levels are high, people sleep longer and more soundly. So, have a small, all-carb snack close to bedtime, such as half a whole wheat English muffin with jam, half a toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel drizzled with honey, or 3 cups air-popped popcorn

Of course, you could be sabotaging your sleep efforts by eating foods that rev you up, interfere with sleep phases, or just make you down-right uncomfortable, such as:

  • Big Dinners: They make you temporarily drowsy, but they also prolong digestive action, which keeps you awake. Instead, eat your biggest meals before mid-afternoon and then have a light evening meal of 500 calories or less. Include some chicken, extra-lean meat or fish at dinner to help curb middle-of-the-night snack attacks.
  • Spicy Foods: Dishes seasoned with garlic, chilies, cayenne, or other hot spices can cause nagging heartburn or indigestion, while the flavor-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate) causes vivid dreaming and restless sleep in some people.
  • Gas-Forming Foods: There is nothing like a tank full of gas to keep you up all night. Have beans, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. before mid-afternoon.
  • Gulping Air: Thoroughly chew food to avoid gulping air, which causes abdominal discomfort.
  • Coffee After Noon: Not only a mid-day cup of coffee or tea, but even a glass of cola or a chocolate doughnut contains enough caffeine to keep some people up at night. “Caffeine can linger in the system for up to 12 hours, revving your nervous system and interfering with sleep,” says Somer. She recommends eliminating caffeine. “If you feel and sleep better after two weeks of being caffeine-free, then avoid caffeine permanently. You can add back one or two cups after the two-week trial, but watch for signs of sleeplessness.”
  • Nightcap Nightmare: Alcohol might make you sleepy at first, but you’ll sleep less soundly and wake more tired. Alcohol and other depressants suppress a phase of sleeping called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) where most of your dreaming occurs. Less REM means more night awakenings and restless sleep. One glass of wine with dinner won’t hurt; but, avoid drinking any alcohol within two hours of bedtime and never mix alcohol with sleeping pills!

Then there is the stress factor. Woody Allen’s saying, “The lamb and the lion shall lie down together, but the lamb will not be very sleepy” is very appropriate. Stress is a common cause of insomnia. Often solving tensions and anxieties eliminates sleep problems. In addition, a major difference between good sleepers and poor sleepers is not what they do at bedtime, but what they did all day. Physical activity helps a person cope with daily stress and tires the body so it is ready to sleep at night, which explains why exercisers sleep more soundly than couch potatoes.

Note: Some cases of chronic insomnia require the help of trained personnel.  The American Sleep Association can help identify your problem and find a reputable professional or center in your area.www.sleepassociation.org

Just Do This Today

1. Skip the soft drink and vow to only drink water.

2. Bring your snacks with you today, such as baby carrots, a carton of hummus, yogurt, an apple or orange, and/or a bottle of orange juice.

3. Toss out 5 junk foods from your kitchen cupboard and restock with 5 healthier items.

4. When facing the vending machine, choose the bag of nuts rather than the chips.

Hot Off the Diet Press

1. Glycine to the Insomniac’s Rescue: Supplementing with the amino acid, glycine, might help curb the fatigue and sleepiness associated with insomnia, according to a study from the Institute for Innovation, Kanagawa, Japan. Sleep was restricted by 25% for three consecutive nights in healthy subjects. Before bedtime, the subjects were given either 3 grams of glycine or placebos, and fatigue and sleepiness were evaluated with tests and questionnaires. Results showed that the sleep-deprived people taking glycine showed significantly less fatigue and sleepiness the next day. Tests also showed improvements in psychomotor vigilance. Glycine appeared to modulate neuropeptides in a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which might explain its effects on curbing symptoms of insomnia. Since 30% of the population suffers from some form of insomnia, the results of this study have far-reaching effects. http://1.usa.gov/Rz9a2D

2. Egg Yolks Definitely a No No: Cholesterol-loaded egg yolks stiffen arteries almost as much as cigarette smoking, according to a study from The Robarts Research Institute in London. Data was collected on 1,262 men   and women. Ultrasound was used to determine the amount of plaque in each patient’s arteries. This information was compared to smoking and diet histories, as well as medication use and lifestyle factors. Results showed that both smoking and egg yolk consumption sped up plaque formation within blood vessels. Regular intake of egg yolks sped up plaque deposition in blood vessels at a rate that was about two-thirds the rate seen with smoking. People who ate three or more egg yolks a week had significantly greater plaque formation compared with people who ate two or fewer yolks a week. The researchers conclude that, “…regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.” http://1.usa.gov/PoTC0d

3. Celiac Disease Common in U.S.: One in every 100 Caucasians in the United States has celiac disease, but most are not aware they suffer from this gluten-intolerance problem, state researchers at the Mayo Clinic  in Rochester, Minnesota. Data was collected on 7,798 people (4,368 of whom were non-white) who gave blood samples that were tested for signs of the immune response to gluten that characterizes celiac disease. The researchers found evidence of celiac disease in 35 people, 29 of whom were not aware of their gluten problem. Six of the 35 people with celiacs were not White. In the study, 55 people reported they followed a gluten-free diet, yet only six of them tested positive for celiac disease, attesting to the fad-like nature of this disease. In short, many people with gluten intolerance are unaware of the problem, while many people who are not intolerant think they are. http://1.usa.gov/QH8Cb7

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Food & Mood Tip – Stress Eating

Forget the three-meals-a-day rule and go for small, frequent meals and snacks when stressed.  Skip meals and you are likely to binge later. Eat small, frequent snacks and you provide your body and brain with a regular supply of high-quality fuel, while side-stepping the urge to overeat later in the day.

Before bedtime, choose a light evening snack as your natural alternative to sleeping pills. A high-carbohydrate snack, such as crackers and fruit or toast and jam, triggers the release of serotonin, the brain chemical that aids sleep.  A light carbohydrate-rich snack before bedtime helps some people sleep longer and more soundly. A glass of warm milk contains the building block for serotonin (i.e., the amino acid tryptophan), but is too high in protein for that building block to enter the brain. The warm liquid does soothe, relax, and provide a feeling of satiety, which might help facilitate sleep.

Need something to bite into, or a way to releaseBaby Carrots  that tension in your jaw? Try chomping on baby carrots, apple slices, jicama sticks, raw green beans, or other crunchy vegetables, and skip the urge to snack on chips and fatty snack items.

Finally, medicate with movement. Exercise every day to “burn” up the stress hormones and relax the body for a good night’s sleep. Researchers at Minneapolis’ School of Public Health found that people who exercise daily have lower stress levels than sedentary people. Exercise raises levels of natural morphine-like compounds called endorphins, brain chemicals that calm you down.

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Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week   – Move It, Baby. Move It!

If you don’t challenge your muscles with vigorous activity, they start to weaken by your mid-30s.  You’ll lose about 1% to 2% of your muscle mass every year after this point, which equates to a five to 10 pound loss of muscle every decade. By your 80s (if you make it that far), you will have a third the muscle you had at 40.

As you lose muscle, you gain fat. Metabolism slows with every pound of fat, so you need fewer calories to maintain your weight. Continue to eat like you’re a 20-something-er and your waistline will expand. Middle-age spread is a clear sign you are trading muscle for fat, which also is a red flag that you have sped up the aging process. Bones become more porous. Blood pressure, fats, and sugar levels rise. You become weaker and more sluggish. Your back goes out. Your knees hurt. Silently and gradually it takes more effort to do even simple daily tasks; consequently, you do less and less. If you don’t stop the process, you will end up on multiple medications, with dementia, and using a walker or a wheel chair.

In fact, sloth is the deadliest sin. According to a study from the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research, the life of a couch potato is at least as risky as a 3-pack-a-day cigarette habit. The longer you sit, the shorter will be your life. It is not a pretty picture, and one that I have no sympathy for, since it is almost entirely preventable. In short, you can set yourself up to be sick or you can choose to be healthy, happy, smart, lean, energetic, and sexy. Why would anyone select the former?! Move everyday, and sometimes vigorously!

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Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Ginger Pumpkin Muffins (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

One of these muffins supplies more  3,000 IU of beta carotene, an antioxidant that helps protect the brain from free-radical damage and age-related memory loss. A great breakfast or snack for the holidays, these muffins also are worthy of attention year-around. One muffin is a meal. Serve with peanut butter or applesauce and a cup of warm almond-flavored milk.

cooking spray
4 + 2 tablespoons candied ginger bits
1 /2 cup dried cherries (you also can use cherry-essence dried plums, cut into bits)
2 tablespoons dark rum or 5 teaspoons water and 1 teaspoon rum extract
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons pumpkin spice
1 1 /2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch of salt
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup liquid egg substitute (equivalent of 1 whole egg)
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 /2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup oil

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12 muffin tins with cooking spray and set aside.

1) Place 4 tablespoons of the ginger bits, the dried cherries, and rum in small bowl. Blend and set aside.

2) In large bowl, mix with a wire whip flour, ground ginger, pumpkin spice, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3) In small bowl, whip egg whites until frothy, but not stiff. Add egg substitute and blend. Set aside.

4) In medium bowl, blend pumpkin, buttermilk,  vanilla, 3/4 cup brown sugar, apple butter, and oil. Add egg mixture and blend. Fold ginger bit-rum mixture into batter.

5) Pour pumpkin-egg mixture into flour mixture and mix until dry ingredients are wet. (Don’t over mix, since this will result in flat, tough muffins.) Divide batter evenly between 12 muffin cups.

6) Mix remaining 2 tablespoons ginger bits and 1 tablespoon brown sugar and sprinkle over tops of muffins before placing in oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into muffin comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.

Nutritional Analysis per muffin: 213 Calories; 21 percent fat (4.9 grams); > 0.5 gram saturated fat; 8 percent protein; 69 percent carbohydrate; 1.4 grams fiber.

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Answers to “Do You Know?” From the Last Issue:

1. Whether the occasional fat feast –burger and fries– will or won’t kill you?
As long as that fat feast is only once in a blue moon, and the rest of the time you’re chowing down on vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other healthy stuff, you needn’t worry. But indulge too often and watch out. A study from the University of Sydney in Australia found that when healthy people between the ages of 18 and 40 years ate a high-fat meal, equivalent to that burger and fries, the saturated fat-laden feast prevented the “good cholesterol,” HDL, from protecting the body against clogged arteries.  The good news is that the harmful effects are temporary and can be offset with a brisk, 90-minute walk after the binge.

2. Which is healthier for you, red or white wine?
Red wine contains at least 20 times the  antioxidants  of white wine (that’s because the antioxidants are in the skin and red wine is processed with the skins, while white wine isn’t), but white wine does have its virtues. Besides the crisp taste of a German Riesling or the perfect combination of a Chardonnay with roast chicken, white wine might improve your health, according to a study from the State University of New York, where researchers found that white wine, not red, improved breathing and lung function in a group of 1,555 adults. Lung function is a strong predictor of heart health, so toast to your lung and heart with a glass of Chablis!

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Do You Know?

1. Whether diet soda is better for you than regular soda?

2. Whether there is or isn’t such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods,” just good or bad diets?

Check the next issue for the answers….

Label Lingo – Sodium

Saltshaker!You probably already know that too much salt increases the risk for high blood pressure, even in people who are at low risk. The American Heart Association has set a limit of 480mg of sodium in order that a processed food can call itself healthful. However, that’s still too high. An optimal intake for the day is no more than 1,500mg of sodium; the upper limit for safety is 2,300mg a day.

Become a sodium sleuth when reading labels. Look for products with less than 480mg of sodium and read the ingredient list, since many ingredients are an additional source of sodium, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), onion salt, garlic sodium alginate, sodium caseinate, sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, sodium propionate, sodium pectinate, sodium sulfite, baking soda, baking powder, and soy sauce.

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The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks  if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 Ginger Pumpkin Muffin
1 cup blueberries
1 cup light fortified soymilk

1 apple
A glass of sparkling water with a twist of lemon

A turkey sandwich made with 3 ounces turkey breast,  lettuce leaves, Dijon mustard, and 2 slices whole wheat bread
15 baby carrots
1 glass nonfat milk

1 6-ounce container of low-fat strawberry-kiwi yogurt mixed with 1 kiwi, peeled and cubed
Green tea

1 4-ounce Grilled Salmon, topped with 1 tablespoon pesto and lemon zest
1 cup oven-roasted Brussel Sprouts (toss with olive oil, salt & pepper to taste and red pepper flakes, roast at 400 degrees until done)
1 /2 cup cooked instant brown rice
1 /2 cup frozen green peas, steamed

Evening Snack:
3 cups air-popped popcorn
1 cup ginger-lemon tea

Nutritional Analysis for the day: 2050 Calories; 29% fat (67.6 grams); 19 gram saturated fat; 3.3 grams omega-3 fats: 21% protein; 50% carbohydrate; 46 grams fiber.