The effect on mood and concentration from jolts in blood sugar can make coping with everyday problems more difficult. When the blood sugar level is raised, the pancreas produces insulin to bring it down again (and if this happens too often diabetes can develop). The short-term effect on our energy is to make us feel exhausted, irritable and stressed. We should choose foods that keep our energy levels at a fairly constant level, which helps us to concentrate and frees us from the urge to keep refueling.
It also improves our general mood, making us calmer and more balanced, so we are less likely to lie awake at night fretting over details or wound up from the caffeine in the emergency chocolate bar that we consumed before going to bed. When looking for ingredients to create meals, keep in mind the following:
Water aids digestion, so try to drink at least 2 liters (3% pints) a day.Fresh fruit is the best slow-release energy source. Juicing fruit removes all the pulp and fiber, which stops you just getting a sugar hit from the fructose.Eating protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, cheese, eggs, natural yogurt and fish, for lunch will keep your levels balanced as you enter the natural dip in your circadian rhythm. Eating refined carbohydrates, like white bread, will cause your sugar level to soar then crash, and only exaggerate this natural dip.Pulses, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are all great for slow-release energy – try them with wholegrain bread.Chromium-rich foods, such as shellfish, cheese, baked beans and wholegrain bread, help your body overcome extreme low blood sugar.A ravenous hunger the morning after a night of drinking is because the alcohol affects your blood sugar levels, making you reach for quick fixes the next day. Drinking on an empty stomach makes it worse.The Glycaemic lndex
The body needs glucose for energy. It is obtained from starches and sugars in the food we eat and either used or stored as fat. Everything we eat is processed this way, but it is the speed at which this happens that makes the difference to our weight and general health – this is what gives food its Gl rating. The faster food is broken down, the higher its index rating (a high rating is about 70 or above). Low-Gl foods keep us fuller for longer, have more fibre, and are usually full of minerals and vitamins.
To keep your energy levels stable, avoid stimulating food and drinks, such as coffee and chocolate. Although they may seem to improve your mental focus, they can cause mood swings.
The lower the glycaemic index (Gl) rating of food, the better it is for maintaining a balanced sugar level. Eating foods with a low Gl rating, such as pulses, lentils and beans, is a great help when you are giving up stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine because they help prevent the swings in mood and hunger. The more processed food is, like white bread, white sugar and junk food, the higher it tends to be on the index.
Choosing energy-balancing foods and drinks during the day can help you feel healthily tired and unwound by bedtime. A large breakfast of complex carbohydrates, such as porridge, fruit, nuts, seeds and lean protein will keep you balanced.
Tryptophan, the insomniac’s Friend
The good news is that for all the foods and drinks that over stimulate us and keep us awake at night, nature has provided sleep-inducing alternatives. Some calm us down while others actively deliver sedative effects. This is mainly down to a chemical called tryptophan.
Learning to choose low-glycaemic index foods, such as sushi and sashimi, is simple. As a rule, avoid highly processed foods that are far removed from their original, natural state.
Tryptophan is an amino acid and an essential chemical for life as it helps us to build protein. We consume about one to three grams of tryptophan a day, but we can boost our intake by seeking out foods that have a higher concentration. It has the effect of speeding up the onset of sleep, decreasing the number of spontaneous wakings during the night and increasing the overall length of sleep during the night. Elderly people, who suffer from increased sensitivity to noise, find it especially helpful, as do those on antidepressants because it can raise the level of serotonin, which is low in brains of depressed people. Eating a main meal around four hours before bedtime with a low-to-medium Gl rating, including complex carbohydrates or some of the vegetables listed will help start the relaxing process.
If needed, a tryptophan-rich snack before bedtime, such as the snacks listed, should greatly improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest. Remember, however, that the same rules apply as before; make sure you give any snacks enough time to digest (an hour or so) before you go to bed.
Foods Rich in TryptophanBananasTurkeyMilk and other dairy productsAlmondsCabbageKidney or lima beansOatsPoppy seedPumpkin seedSpinachWheatEvening primrose seed (contains the most tryptophan of any food source)poultryEggsRed meatsSoybeanTofuBasilDillSedative Snacks That Aid Relaxation Before Sleep
Combine ‘sleepy food’ with other foods, such as avocados, mandarins and lettuce that contain bromine to help ease that short-fused feeling, for a light, easy-to-make and easy-to-digest snack. Lettuce has a longstanding reputation for promoting healthy sleep. This is due to an opium-related substance, combined with traces of the anticramping agent hyoscyarnin that is present in lettuce. Lettuce should be an integral part of your evening diet if you are suffering from sleep disorders. Juiced, and mixed with a little lemon juice for flavor, it makes an effective sleep-inducing drink and is highly preferable to the synthetic chemical agents in sleeping pills. You can also try carbohydrates, including pasta, brown rice and oatmeal, which produce serotonin.
Eating tryptophan-rich foods can help induce a restful and rewarding sleep in a completely natural way. Avoid stimulants and rich dishes before bedtime. Herbal drinks can settle the stomach, soothe the mind and relax the body. Try blending them for the perfect mix of taste and sensation for your individual needs.
Try one of these delicious snacks an hour before bedtime to help you to relax and unwind:
Wholegrain toast with a little almond butterA small portion of a healthy, fat-containing food, such as olive oil on your salad or an avocadoA small pot of natural yogurt with a little honeyFresh, dried or cooked fruit for dessertA small cup of warm milk, with nutmeg for flavour and digestionA small bananaA handful of unsalted nuts or seeds.Soothing Drinks
The traditional drink of a glass of warm milk before bedtime does indeed consist of calming properties – the tryptophan, calcium and magnesium all help the mind and body to relax. Try adding a sprinkling of cinnamon, which is excellent for digestion and can ease a sore throat or night-time cough. Difficulties in breathing can sometimes be aggravated by dairy products, so consider other relaxing drink options. Herbal tea blends can be wonderful at sending you off to sleep; experiment with different blends to find your favourite.
The passionflower vine is a sedative and digestive aid. The herb is considered to be a mildly effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia, and is often combined with other herbal preparations, such as valerian and hops. It isn’t as potent as some of the other natural sedatives, but it is ideal for those who also get a nervous stomach, especially in the tea form, taken three times daily.
The familiar camomiila plant is used in varying degrees to help calm and relax. As well as being drunk, it can also be used to create a soothing, sleep-inducing bath before bedtime: simply put a teabag or two into the bath, or float some of the dried flowerheads in the water. Camomile is quite easy to grow if you fancy a constant supply – just dry it out and use. Add a little honey if you need a sweet kick, but not too much!
Also known as Melissa officinalis, this strong lemon-smelling member of the mint family can be made into tea. Also try using it to season soups and salads, or as a cooling iced tea on hot, restless summer nights.
Also known as lemon verbena, this is similar in flavour to lemon balm, but with a stronger taste, and has similar effects.
Also known as linden, lime flower has soporific effects. lnfuse a handful of dried flowers in 1 litre (2%pints) of boiling water, and drink two large cups before going to bed.
A great alternative to tea in the hot summer months is the natural sedative mandarin, which is packed full of calming bromine.
In all its forms, sugar can play havoc with our sleep patterns. This is mainly because our blood sugar levels can ‘crash’ after a big dose of the stuff, leaving us even more tired, and hunting around for another snack to give us a quick energy fix, often washed down with our old friend caffeine. This cycle can leave us too fatigued to make a substantial dinner for ourselves, even if we feel ravenously hungry, and this is where convenience food comes in with even more hidden sugars and chemical sweeteners. And so the cycle continues.
Life After Sugar
Cutting down on sugar means committing to eating foods in their natural state. This means avoiding processed foods and weaning our sweet tooth on to more natural sugars, such as honey (in moderation). Balancing out the peaks and troughs of blood sugar can aid in weight loss, as we are not overeating and always hurtling from one unhealthy food fix to another, and balance our energy and concentration levels. This will mean you arrive at bedtime ready for a good night sleep. The key to healthy snacking is to be prepared; a bag of roasted pumpkin seeds in your bag, a fruit bowl on your desk, will make them an easier option than finding a vending machine full of energy-sapping sugary and salty snacks. Aim to graze through the day rather than find yourself suddenly starving and willing to eat whatever you can find (its always easier to find junk food). Little and often is best, and will stop you suddenly obsessing about what to have mid-morning.