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Friday, December 19, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2013

Here's some food to sleep on

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Are you having trouble sleeping?

You already know enough not to drink coffee or tea late in the day, of course, and not to eat too much dark chocolate. And you are almost certainly smart enough to know that if you exercise after work, you should always shower immediately afterward and not wait until after you have cooked all night for next week's food stories because showering always wakes you up just before you go to bed. Ahem.

Anyway, it turns out that certain foods can help encourage a peaceful, restful sleep. In a recent episode of Food News Today, Phil Lempert reported that light carbohydrates can help you find that elusive, post-shower sleep.

A great example, he said, is to eat a bowl of oatmeal with milk about 90 minutes before you turn out the light. The protein in the milk will help you metabolize the carbohydrates in the oatmeal, producing serotonin. Serotonin (it's also called 5-hydroxytryptamine, which is why most people call it serotonin) is a hormone that helps us learn, regulates our moods, and also helps us sleep.

Another natural sleeping aid is as easy as eating a banana. The fruit is full of magnesium and potassium, which help to relax muscles. Mr. Lempert doesn't specifically mention it, so I may be talking out of turn here, but you could probably put a sliced banana on your oatmeal and milk. Go ahead, go crazy.

And have you ever seen an old movie in which a character drinks a glass of warm milk before going to bed? It turns out that actually works. Mr. Lempert recommends warm milk sweetened with a little honey, which has the additional benefit of filling you up just enough so you do not awaken from hunger.

I now know I have led a fortunate life: I have never awakened from hunger.

In another segment of Food News Today, Mr. Lempert discusses a fascinating study about why some children are finicky eaters. It turns out that their genes may have something to do with it.

A study by the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health looked at 66 pairs of young twins, determining which ones tended to avoid more foods. Genetics, they learned, played a part in a statistically significant 72 percent of the variation in the tendency to avoid foods. The other 28 percent, they found, were influenced by the environment.

And that's the part that you can do something about, if you're a parent. If some children's attitudes toward food change with their environment, it might be helpful to change the environment. That means changing your tactics based on the individual personality and the idiosyncrasies of each child.

Rather than cajoling the children, parents might just act as role models eating a variety of foods and showing how much they enjoy the food their children avoid (these are Mr. Lempert's suggestions, not mine). Or you might be able to encourage them to eat more kinds of food by offering them a choice of several new items to try.

One final bit of disappointing information from Food News Today: You have probably heard about negative-calorie foods. Those are foods that actually contain fewer calories than they take to eat. High-fiber, water-heavy fruits and vegetables are usually cited as negative-calorie foods, and the one you hear about most often is celery. Because of its low number of calories and the energy required to chew and digest it, celery is considered the perfect weight-loss food.

There is only one problem, Mr. Lempert reports: It isn't true.

Negative-calorie foods are theoretically possible, he said, but none is known to actually exist. Celery is indeed about as close as you are going to come, but the numbers just aren't there. A large rib of celery contains 10 calories, but it only burns up two calories to consume it, even with all that chewing.

That said, high-fiber, water-heavy fruits and vegetables are a great help in losing weight. They fill your stomach and help make you feel full, so you aren't tempted to eat other, more fattening foods.

Besides, if ribs of celery are only 10 calories apiece, can you imagine how many you'd have to eat to gain weight?

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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