Last week I wrote about how to stop mindless eating in the evenings. However, having a small, planned snack in the evenings is not such a bad thing- it can actually help you sleep better. Choosing the right snack is key to satisfying your hunger without giving you sleep-disturbing indigestion or morning bloat and regret. Here are my top five favorite evening snacks.

Remember to munch on them mindfully (I suggest turning the TV off while you nosh) and consuming them at least an hour before bedtime to prevent any stomach issues.

  • Dried Tart Cherries: Tart cherries contain melatonin, which is also known as the sleep-inducing hormone. Their sweet-tart flavor may satisfy your evening sweet tooth while giving you an antioxidant boost and possibly helping you catch some zzz’s. Just make sure to measure your portion and keep it to about a quarter cup serving to avoid a calorie overload.
  • Nuts: Nuts are a great snack any time of day because their combination of protein and healthy fat helps quell hunger while providing plenty of nutrients. They are great to have in the evening as well because they will satisfy the urge for a crunchy snack and you don’t need to eat many to get that feel-full effect. Just a quarter cup serving will keep hunger at bay all night without leaving you with that stuffed feeling before bed or making you wake up bloated in the morning.
  • Popcorn: Popcorn is a complex carb, so it contains serotonin, which is a hormone that helps you relax. It’s a great snack to munch on in the evenings because you can have a lot of it (3 cups popped) for only 100 calories if you skip dousing it in butter. It’s great if you want an evening snack that will last longer than a couple of seconds. Plus, the fiber in it will help satisfy your hunger and ward off cravings.
  • Banana: If you get an evening craving for something sweet with a soft, creamy texture, you won’t find a better bedtime snack than a banana. It’s also a natural source of melatonin and it’s a great snack for when you are feeling lazy because it doesn’t require any work to prepare. As an added bonus, the potassium in the banana may prevent you from waking up during the night with sore, cramping muscles after an intense workout.
  • Oatmeal: If you love the feeling of going to bed with a full belly without being too full, try a small bowl of oats. The stick-to-your-ribs power of its high-fiber content coupled with the relaxing and satisfying effect of the carbohydrates makes it a perfect evening snack. To kick up the flavor, add a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

So whatever kind of snack you crave in the evenings- tart, chewy, crunchy, salty, sweet, creamy, or warm- there’s a perfect option for you that won’t keep you up all night or feeling guilty. Happy Snacking!

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The first rule of late-night feeding: don’t eat too much.

While experts say eating before bed doesn’t play a major role in weight-gain, that pre-slumber snack could disturb your sleep.

“I tell people not to eat anything 3 hours before bedtime if they can avoid it, especially a big meal,” says Joseph Murray, M.D., a gastroenterologist with Mayo Clinic.

Murray says it takes about 3 hours for a normal person’s stomach to break down food and pass the partially digested results to the lower intestine. Climb into bed before your stomach has done its thing, and sleep can interrupt that process.

“Instead of grinding up food efficiently, the stomach can go into what we sometimes call its ‘housekeeping function,’ where it just tries to sweep everything away,” Murray explains. “It will dump solid or undigested food into the small intestine, which will have problems breaking down and absorbing everything.”

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Murray says you may not be aware of any of this. But because your digestive system is still working its way through what you’ve eaten, your sleep may be disrupted—even if you don’t wake up.

“You might feel a little groggy or tired the next day,” he says, “but you may not attribute that to what you ate the night before.”

He says a small snack before bed is acceptable. But some foods are more likely to give you problems than others.

Here’s what to reach for—and what to avoid.

Don’t Eat: Chocolate

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If you’re eating chocolate cake or cookies, you’re probably swallowing loads of sugar.

While that’s bad enough when it comes to your sleep, chocolate can also be a source of “hidden caffeine,” Murray explains.

Even though chocolate doesn’t contain much of the stuff, even a little caffeine can disturb or halt the sleep-inducing chemical processes going on in your brain and body before bedtime, he says.

Erin Morse, R.D., chief clinical dietitian at UCLA Health says many types of tea—and even decaf coffee—may also contain enough caffeine to keep you up if sipped before bed.

Do Eat: Banana

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Bananas are mostly made up of fast-digesting carbs. And fast digestion is definitely your goal when you’re snacking before bed, Morse says.

“Bananas are also a good source of magnesium, which helps calm stress hormones and so can promote sleep,” Morse says.

Murray agrees that bananas are a safe pick.

Don’t Eat: Fatty Foods

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Dietary fats take a long time to digest, Murray says. While that can be good news if you’re trying to stay full between meals, it’s exactly what you DON’T want before bed.

Milk, yogurt, avocado, nuts, ice cream, and butter are all bad news, he says. Ditto any kind of cooking or olive oil.

Maybe worst of all: cheese.

“The guy who gets home late and eats a load of pizza before bed—that’s not going to help him sleep well that night,” he says.

Do Eat: Whole Grains

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Carbs eaten an hour or two before bed can help trigger the release of serotonin, melatonin, and other brain neurotransmitters that promote sleep, says Maxine Smith, a registered dietician at Cleveland Clinic.

She mentions 100-percent whole-grain crackers or bread and stovetop popcorn as healthy pre-bed carb choices.

Again, you don’t want to go nuts. The more you eat, the more likely you are to toss and turn, she says.

Don’t Eat: Acidic Foods

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Roughly 10 percent of younger men may suffer from acid reflux—but many of them don’t know it, Murray says.

“Common symptoms are a burning sensation in the back of your throat or in your chest,” he explains.

With reflux, the normal seal that keeps the contents of your stomach from bubbling up into your esophagus and throat doesn’t do its job properly. And, as you might expect, lying down makes the problem worse, he says.

Spicy or fried foods, as well as tomato-based sauces (again, think pizza), are all very acidic, Smith adds. Take them off your pre-bed menu.

Do Eat: Eggs

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If your stomach’s growling, protein is a great way to satisfy it.

Eggs are a good source of protein, and also a food your stomach should be able to process fairly quickly, Murray says. He says a scrambled egg may make its way through your gut more quickly than a hard boiled one.

Don’t Drink: Alcohol

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Alcohol disturbs your normal sleep rhythms. You know this. But it’s worth repeating if you’re fond of a drink or three before bed.

“Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deep, sound, restorative sleep later in the night,” Smith says.

She recommends stopping at least a few hours before you sack out.

“If you’re going to drink alcohol, try to have it with dinner early in the evening,” Murray says. That way, it’s long gone by the time you hit the hay.

Do Eat: Kiwi

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A 2017 study from Norway linked eating kiwi before bed with improved sleep quality among a group of insomniacs.

“Because of some of the antioxidant compounds in kiwi, including serotonin, eating it led to faster sleep onset and improved sleep quality,” Morse says.

Both she and Smith say other types of fruit, including apples and berries, are healthy carb sources that are also probably safe to eat before bed.

Markham Heid Markham Heid is an experienced health reporter and writer, has contributed to outlets like TIME, Men’s Health, and Everyday Health, and has received reporting awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C.

5 Hidden Health Benefits of Eating Popcorn

Chris Kissell November 9, 2017 Nutrition Email Print Twitter Pinterest Facebook

Sometimes, it seems like anything that tastes good is potentially bad for your body. Many of our favorite treats – from chocolate bars to ice cream and potato chips – can harm our health.

However, popcorn is a glorious exception to the rule. This fun food can be good for you. Here are five potential health benefits of eating popcorn:

It can help you lose weight

In its natural state, popcorn can be a great snack if you want to shed a few pounds, and keep them off.

“Popcorn is naturally low in fat and calories,” says Caroline West Passerrello, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For example, 3 cups of air-popped popcorn total just 110 calories and 1 gram of fat, Passerrello says.

However, you can undo much of popcorn’s positive impact by adding decadent extras, including butter and oil. So, try to keep it simple.

“Don’t be intimidated to try an air or stovetop popper,” Passerrello says. “Popcorn doesn’t just have to come from movie theaters or boxed packets.”

It can keep your blood sugar in check

Many snacks can cause a sharp rise in your levels of blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. A food’s glycemic index indicates how much your blood sugar will rise after you consume the food.

Popcorn scores decently in this category, especially in comparison to other snacks. Air-popped popcorn has a glycemic index score of 55. That puts it near the upper end of low-GI foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

By contrast, many other snacks have higher scores. According to Harvard Medical School, GI scores for the following foods are:

  • Fruit Roll-Ups: 99
  • Oven-baked pretzels: 83
  • Vanilla wafers: 77

A low-GI reading is desirable because foods with a lower score improve both glucose and lipid levels for people with diabetes.

In addition, foods with lower glycemic index readings are more slowly absorbed in the body, which helps dampen appetite and delays the sensation of hunger — a double benefit that aids weight loss efforts.

It’s a whole grain

Popcorn is a whole grain. This means each kernel contains the bran, germ and endosperm.

By contrast, a refining process removes the bran and germ from many of the grains we consume, including most types of bread. This removal results in a loss of one-quarter of a grain’s protein, and at least 17 key nutrients also are reduced, according to the Whole Grains Council.

So, eating popcorn can boost our intake of whole grains. “At least half of our grains each day should be whole grains,” Passerrello says.

A single serving of popcorn has about 70 percent of the recommended daily intake of whole grain, according to the USDA.

It’s full of vitamins and minerals

Surprisingly, that little kernel of popcorn contains a wealth of hidden nutrition. For example, popcorn contains about 8 percent of your daily value of iron, according to the USDA.

Other minerals found in popcorn include:

  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

Popcorn also contains many vitamins, including:

  • Vitamins B6, A, E and K
  • Folate
  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin
  • Pantothenic acid

It may prevent disease, and boost your eyesight

Eating popcorn has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease, according to the USDA. That’s because the hull contains polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Popcorn hulls also contain beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, all of which can boost the health of your eyes.

But don’t consume endless bowls of popcorn in hopes of achieving 20/20 vision. Just remember that as with any food, popcorn should be eaten in moderation.

“It can easily become a food that we eat mindlessly,” Passerrello says. “And (that) can be too much of a good thing.”

Chris Kissell

Chris Kissell has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and on many news websites, ranging from Bankrate.com to Fox Business. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Chris Kissell has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and on many news websites, ranging from Bankrate.com to Fox Business. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Can’t Sleep? These Everyday Foods Just Might Help.

Cheese and crackers

If your mom gave you hot milk during a childhood bout of insomnia, she’s a smart lady (but you knew that already), since dairy is also high in tryptophan.

That said, tryptophan gets triggered into working its sleepy magic through carbohydrates. That’s why cereal and milk or cheese and crackers both make for great Sandman snacks.

Though you might be tempted to turn these foods into one big, unholy banana-cheese-rice casserole, sleep expert Dr. Thomas Penzel advises against eating a big meal before bed — even if it’s a banana split (dairy and bananas and nuts are good, right?)

“You shouldn’t go to bed hungry, but should also not be having anything more than a light meal,” he says. “So after eating, it’s best to take some time before going to sleep, around two hours for proper digestion.”

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Barbara Woolsey is a Berlin-based writer who can fall asleep after eating anything. Follow her semi-conscious adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

9 diet mistakes that make you feel tired

We’ve all hit that difficult time of day when our energy dips, our concentration flags and we’re ready to take a nap. And the very culprit could be your diet. The foods you eat – and don’t eat – can zap both your mental and physical energy.

To help you feel energized during the day, adopt smart eating habits to sidestep the following nine blunders that rob you of energy. If you still find yourself sluggish, despite eating right, consult your doctor. Ongoing fatigue may be the symptom of an underlying health problem.

You eat too many refined carbs

Carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains and fruit are metabolized into blood glucose, the only form of energy the body can use immediately. When it comes to feeling energetic, though not all carbohydrates are created equal.

Highly processed, refined carbs (e.g. white bread and crackers, refined breakfast cereals, sweets and sugary drinks) rank high on the glycemic index scale. That means they cause large spikes in blood glucose followed by sharp drops, which can bring on fatigue. Sugar also blocks the activity of orexin cells, brain cells that stimulate wakefulness.

For a balanced release of energy choose low glycemic carbohydrates such as 100% stoneground bread, 100% bran cereals, steel-cut and large flake oatmeal, milk, yogurt, soy beverages, apples, bananas, pears, oranges, dried apricots, berries, nuts, seeds, and beans and lentils.

You skimp on protein

Protein-rich meals help you feel more alert by counteracting after-meal drowsiness that can be brought on by consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates. Including protein at meals also helps regulate, or slow, the release of glucose into the bloodstream.

Include a source of protein – e.g. fish, turkey, lean meat, eggs, yogurt, tofu, legumes, nuts – at all meals and snacks.

You skip breakfast

The morning meal replenishes your brain and muscles with energy (glucose) after fasting overnight. Studies have found that adults and kids who skip it report lower energy, poorer moods and reduced memory.

Start the day with a breakfast that delivers protein and low glycemic carbohydrates. Good choices include bran cereal with milk, fruit and nuts; steel cut oatmeal topped with ½ cup Greek yogurt; a smoothie made with milk (or soy milk), berries and ground flax; and 100% whole grain toast with almond butter and fruit salad.

You don’t snack

It takes your body roughly two to three hours to break down carbohydrate in the food you eat and convert it to energy for the body. To prevent your energy level from fading, include healthy snacks between meals.

Snacks should boost your blood sugar and keep it relatively stable until mealtime. Try fruit and nuts, Greek yogurt and berries, a bowl of lentil soup, whole grain crackers (Wasa, Ryvita and FinnCrisp are low glycemic) and part skim cheese or a whole foods energy bar.

You drink too little water

Water in your bloodstream circulates oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and removes wastes. Water is also an essential ingredient in the production of energy molecules.

Men require 12 cups (3 litres) of water each day; women need 9 cups (2.2 litres). All fluids – except alcoholic beverages – count towards your daily water requirements. That includes water, milk, unsweetened juices, tea and coffee.

You rely on caffeine to stay alert

One or two cups of coffee can boost mental alertness, but drinking more can overstimulate your central nervous system and cause insomnia. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a brain chemical that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity.

Women of childbearing age should limit caffeine intake to 300 mg per day; other healthy adults should consume no more than 400 mg daily. (One 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 95 to 200 mg of caffeine, one cup of black tea has 14 to 70 mg and one cup of green tea has 25 to 45 mg.) Cut yourself off caffeine by 12 noon.

You sip on wine after dinner

A nightcap or two before bed may help you fall asleep but it disrupts sleep by causing you to wake up in the second half of the night. Even imbibing during “happy hour” or with dinner, without further consumption before bedtime, can increase wakefulness during the night.

Consuming more than two drinks can also steal time spent in REM sleep, the stage important for memory and learning. Plus, alcohol dehydrates you, which can worsen fatigue the next day.

If you do drink, limit your intake to 1 alcoholic drink per day (e.g. 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of sprits, 12 ounces of beer).

You don’t get enough iron

An iron deficiency, even without anemia, can cause fatigue and lethargy. Iron rich foods include beef, oysters, clams, turkey, chicken, tuna, pork loin and halibut, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, soybeans, lentils, baked beans, black beans, firm tofu, cooked spinach, raisins and prune juice.

Menstruating women should take a multivitamin and mineral supplement to help meet daily iron requirements (18 mg or 32 mg for vegetarians).

You’re running low on B12

Too little B12 can also cause you to feel tired. The vitamin is used to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body.

B12 is found in all animal foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy) and non-dairy beverages and soy products fortified with the nutrient. You can also get B12 from a multivitamin or B complex supplement.

Older adults, vegans, heavy drinkers and people on long-term acid-blocking medication are at risk of B12 deficiency. If you’re concerned you might be low in B12 (or iron) speak to your doctor about getting tested.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.

Midnight Marauders

The list includes some major sleep bandits: caffeine and nicotine.

Caffeine late in the day is a no-no — that includes items such as chocolate, teas, and sodas. But it’s not always obvious where caffeine lurks, says Hunt, so make sure to check food labels.

“Everyone is aware that coffee can keep them awake; what they’re not necessarily appreciating is there’s caffeine or related items in many other things that they consume,” he tells WebMD.

The National Sleep Foundation reports the effects of caffeine can cause problems falling asleep as much as 10-12 hours later in some people.

Nicotine often falls below the radar screen when it comes to sleep interruption, but it, like caffeine, is actually a stimulant. Research shows that nicotine is linked to problems with insomnia. Hunt says smoking within a few hours of bedtime should be avoided; better yet, don’t smoke at all.

Spicy and acidic foods can also kill sleep efforts because they cause heartburn. Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. Why is eating these foods close to bedtime such a concern? Lying down makes heartburn worse, and the discomfort from heartburn hinders sleep.

But what about the old standbys — such as drinking warm milk or having a nightcap — to lull us to sleep? Do they truly work?

Milk contains a substance called tryptophan. The body uses this substance to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin helps control sleep patterns, appetite, pain, and other functions but unfortunately doesn’t contain enough tryptophan to change our sleep patterns. However, Hunt says some people say it works and doesn’t knock trying it.

Alcohol is a tricky substance: It’s an undercover sleep marauder. It’s also the most common self-medicated sedative, Hunt tells WebMD. Contrary to popular belief, that seemingly harmless nightcap before bed may be relaxing at first but has a rebound effect and can cause you to wake up in the wee hours of the night. So if you want some quality shut-eye, it’s best to just say no.

If worse comes to worst, a sleeping pill could help. Sleeping pills are safe and effective in moderation. But doctors caution they are not a long-term solution for insomnia but merely a Band-Aid for the symptoms. A doctor may prescribe sleeping pills on a short-term basis for patients who are having a stressful period in their life, such as coping with the death of a loved one. Hunt also says natural remedies such as melatonin or valerian (sold in health-food stores) may provide some relief. But check with your doctor first — some supplements can interfere with your regular prescription medication.

Q. I know it’s not good to eat close to bedtime, but I get hungry. What are the least harmful things I can eat — or drink — say, an hour or two before going to bed?

A. It’s hard to resist late-night cravings, but try to limit your bedtime nosh to 100 or 200 calories, 300 calories tops, said Isabel Maples, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and choose nutrient-rich items that may be lacking in your diet, like fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains or nuts, “to really make those calories count.” (Seafood and beans are other good options, but not particularly appealing before bed.) Keep in mind that snacking contributes to weight gain, and studies have found that nearly one-quarter of the calories we eat come from snacks.

A banana, apple or other fresh fruit, a small portion of low-fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt with sliced fruit, or oatmeal or some other high-fiber cereal with skim milk were frequent suggestions made by experts interviewed for this article.

Other suggestions included raw veggie sticks, a couple of whole grain crackers with a small slice of cheese, a handful of almonds or other nuts, or celery sticks spread with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter or almond butter (measure the nuts and butters — don’t eat them straight out of the container).

Popcorn benefits before bed

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