kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Snoring is estimated to affect 57% of men and 40% of women in the United States. It even occurs in up to 27% of children. Snoring is widespread, but its severity and health implications can vary. Snoring can be light, occasional, and unconcerning, or it may be the sign of a serious underlying sleep-related breathing disorder.

For many people, the principle cause of insomnia is the snoring of a partner. It is a very common problem and most of us snore at least sometimes.

The more relaxed, the deeper the snoring. Snoring sounds range from quiet vibrations or whistles to very loud grumbling, snorting or rumbling. Some people might not realize they’re snoring when they sleep. People who snore may toss and turn at night, have a dry, sore throat when they wake up and feel tired during the day. Lack of sleep can cause headaches, difficulty focusing and moodiness.

Snoring happens when air can’t flow easily through the mouth or nose. When the air is forced through an obstructed area, soft tissues in the mouth, nose and throat bump into each other and vibrate. During sleep, the muscles loosen, narrowing the airway, and as we inhale and exhale, the moving air causes the tissue to flutter.

There is a fleshy appendage called the uvula at the back of our mouths and beginning of the throat. Like a mud flap, it directs food down the throat and away from the nasal passage. It also helps with the production of saliva and appears to have a role in triggering the gag reflex. The rattling of the uvula in sleep appears to be a significant component of snoring.

If your child is snoring, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. Children who snore may not get enough restful sleep at night. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of behavior problems, tiredness and trouble focusing.

Occasional snoring due to a cold or flu is usually harmless. Long-term snoring increases the risk of health problems, including:

  • Decreased blood oxygen levels
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired during the day)
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

Some people gasp for air and stop breathing for a few seconds while they are asleep. These are signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder that leads to serious health problems if it isn’t treated. You should see your provider as soon as possible if you feel like you can’t breathe when you sleep or you’re extremely tired during the day.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes airways to get blocked or collapse during sleep, causing repeated lapses in breathing. Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of OSA, but not all people who snore have OSA. OSA-related snoring tends to be loud and sound as if a person is choking, snorting, or gasping.

OSA disturbs sleep and often disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. More mild snoring, called primary snoring, occurs frequently but doesn’t provoke these other effects.

Many instances of snoring are benign, but it’s important to talk with a doctor if there are signs of potential sleep apnea:

  • Snoring that occurs three or more times per week
  • Very loud or bothersome snoring
  • Snoring with gasping, choking, or snorting sounds
  • Obesity or recent weight gain
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Lack of focus or mental sharpness
  • Morning headaches and congestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Frequent nighttime urination (nocturia)

If you have noticed any of these signs, it’s important to address the issue with a doctor who can determine if additional testing or treatment is necessary.

Unless someone else tells them, most people who snore aren’t aware of it, and this is part of why sleep apnea is underdiagnosed.

Snoring risk factors include:

  • Age: Snoring is more common as we age because muscle tone decreases, causing airways to constrict.
  • Alcohol and sedatives: Alcoholic beverages and certain medications relax muscles, restricting airflow in the mouth, nose and throat.
  • Anatomy: A long soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth), enlarged adenoids, tonsils or a large tongue can make it hard for air to flow through the nose and mouth. A deviated septum (displaced cartilage in the nose) can block the flow of air. Also, a jaw that is small or set-back can cause snoring.
  • Gender: Snoring is more common in men.
  • Family history: Snoring runs in families. If you have a parent who snores, you’re more likely to snore too.
  • Overall health: Nasal stuffiness due to allergies and the common cold block airflow through the mouth and nose. Pregnant people are more likely to snore due to hormonal changes and weight gain.
  • Weight: Snoring and sleep-related breathing disorders are more common in people who have overweight or obesity. Excess body fat, puts pressure on the soft tissues and compresses the airway.

If you sleep alone, set up a recording device. You can use one of many smartphone apps. These apps have the advantage of analyzing sound patterns for you to detect likely episodes of snoring. It’s best to record for multiple nights since snoring may not occur every night. The apps do not aid in the diagnosis of OSA.

If you can’t record while you are sleeping, be on the lookout for other red flags related to disrupted sleep such as noticeable daytime sleepiness, fatigue, problems with attention or thinking, or unexplained mood changes.

Doctors can recommend treatments to improve your posture or open your airways when you sleep. Remedies for snoring include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Avoiding alcohol before bed, changing your sleep position and maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you can reduce snoring.
  • Medications: Cold and allergy medications relieve nasal congestion and help you breathe freely.
  • Nasal strips: Flexible bands stick to the outside of your nose and keep nasal passages open.
  • Oral appliances: Wearing an oral appliance when you sleep keeps your jaw in the proper position so air can flow. These mouth devices or mouth guards are not the same as the ones used for sports, which won’t resolve snoring.

If you think you need to be evaluated, your provider will ask you (and perhaps your partner) several questions, including how often you snore, what it sounds like and how your diet and lifestyle affect your sleep. During an exam, your provider will check your blood pressure, listen to your heart and look in your mouth, nose and throat.

To evaluate your sleep patterns, your provider may order a sleep study (polysomnogram). You might be able to do a sleep study at home, or you may need to spend the night in a sleep center. A sleep study evaluates:

  • Brain wave activity
  • Breathing patterns, including any periods when you stop breathing or gasp for air
  • Heart rate and oxygen levels
  • Movements during sleep, such as arm or leg movements or tossing and turning
  • Sleep cycles and snoring

Polenta

Polenta is a cornmeal mush or porridge that originated in Northern Italy as peasant food. It typically made with coarse yellow cornmeal but it can also be made from finely ground yellow or white cornmeal. Polenta is often served as a soft, thick mush, which may be topped with sauce, a hearty ragu, or vegan cheese. (Chipotle Cheddar from Nuts for Cheese) Cooked polenta can also be cooled until firm and cut into wedges, rounds, or other shapes, which can be baked, grilled, or pan-fried.

The type of corn that’s used to make cornmeal and polenta is different from corn on the cob. It’s a starchier type of field corn that’s high in complex carbs. Complex carbs are digested more slowly than simple carbs. They help keep you feeling full for longer and provide long-lasting energy.

Amylose and amylopectin are the two forms of carbs in starch. Amylose is also known as resistant starch because it resists digestion and comprises 25% of the starch in cornmeal. It’s linked to healthier blood sugar and insulin levels. The remainder of the starch is amylopectin, which does get digested.

The glycemic index (GI) indicates how much a given food may raise your blood sugar levels on a scale of 1-100. The glycemic load (GL) is a value that factors in the serving size to determine how a food may affect blood sugar levels. Polenta is high in starchy carbs, but it has a medium GI of 68, meaning it won’t raise your blood sugar levels too quickly. It also has a low GL, so it shouldn’t cause your blood sugar to spike after eating it. The GI and GL of foods are affected by what else you eat at the same time.

The yellow cornmeal used to make polenta is an important source of antioxidants, which are compounds that help protect the cells in your body from oxidative damage. Antioxidants may help reduce your risk of  age-related diseases. The most significant antioxidants in yellow cornmeal are carotenoids and phenolic compounds.

The carotenoids include carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin, among many others. These natural pigments give cornmeal its yellow color and are linked to a lower risk of eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, as well as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

Phenolic compounds in yellow cornmeal include flavonoids and phenolic acids. They’re responsible for some of its sour, bitter, and astringent flavors. These compounds reduce the risk of age-related diseases. They also help block or reduce inflammation throughout the body and brain.

Cornmeal is naturally gluten-free. It’s always a good idea to examine the ingredient label carefully. Some manufacturers may add gluten-containing ingredients, or the product may be manufactured in a facility that also processes gluten-containing foods, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.

A 3/4-cup serving of polenta cooked in water provides:

  • Calories: 80
  • Carbs: 17 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: less than 1 gram
  • Fiber: 1 gram

You can also buy precooked polenta packaged in a tube. As long as the ingredients are only water, cornmeal, and possibly salt, the nutrition information should remain similar. Most packaged and precooked polenta is made from de-germinated corn, which means the germ, the innermost part of the corn kernel, has been removed. It is not considered a whole grain.

The germ is where most of the fat, B vitamins, and vitamin E are stored. Corn kernels have three parts. These are the germ, hull, and endosperm. Whole grain cornmeal has all three parts, which means it has high nutritional value. That also means that whole grain cornmeal can go bad quickly if not stored in the refrigerator or freezer. For this reason, most of the cornmeal found in supermarkets may not be whole grain. Check the ingredients label to make sure that the cornmeal you’re buying says “whole grain”.

There are different types of polenta based on the preparation of the dish:

  • Coarse ground polenta
  • Finely ground polenta
  • Instant polenta
  • White polenta
  • Precooked (tube) polenta

    How to Buy

    Polenta is ground cornmeal, so look for either packaged polenta or ground cornmeal in your grocery store. It’s normally in the baking aisle and sold in boxes or bags.

    Pre-made tubes of cooked polenta are also widely available.

    How to Store

    Store uncooked polenta in a cool, dark pantry for up to two years. Make sure any opened package is fully sealed. Precooked polenta that is not opened does not need to be refrigerated. Cooked polenta should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days.

    How to Cook

    Cooking polenta is not complicated. Bring salted water to a boil, slowly whisk in the polenta, and then cook for around 45 minutes, stirring the polenta every 10 minutes. This long cooking time and stirring will allow the grains to swell and become cooked. Once prepared, it can be topped with anything from ragu, fruit, or vegan butter.

    Instead of adding salt or vegan cheese for flavor, add herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, sage, or saffron. Try adding yogurt for creaminess.

    Other flavorful, nutritious additions include vegetable purees, mushrooms, or lemon zest. Make it a breakfast polenta with fruits or nuts, sweetened with maple syrup.

    One cup of dry cornmeal plus 4 cups of water will make 4 -5 cups of polenta.

    • Bring 4 cups of lightly salted water or vegetable or mushroom stock to a boil in a pot.
    • Add 1 cup of packaged polenta or yellow cornmeal.
    • Stir it well and reduce the heat to low, allowing the polenta to simmer and thicken.
    • Cover the pot and let the polenta cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom and burning.
    • If you’re using instant or quick-cooking polenta, it will take only 3-5 minutes to cook.

    If you want to experiment with baked polenta, pour the cooked polenta into a baking pan or dish and bake it at 350°F  for about 20 minutes, or until firm and slightly golden. Let it cool and cut it into squares for serving.

    Creamy Vegan Polenta with Mushrooms and Kale

    Lidey Heuck/ Photo credit:Con Poulos for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd.

    4 Servings

    Ingredients

    For the Polenta

    • cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more as needed
    • Kosher salt and black pepper
    • 1½ cups polenta, medium-or coarse-grind cornmeal, or corn grits
    • tablespoons vegan butter
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, to taste

    For the Mushrooms

    • tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
    • small yellow onion, finely chopped
    • pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced ¼-inch thick
    • teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
    • garlic cloves, minced
    • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
    • tablespoons tomato paste
    • ⅔ cup full-bodied red wine (see Tip)
    • cup low-sodium vegetable broth
    • large or 2 small bunches curly kale, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard, stemmed, then leaves torn into bite-size pieces
    • 1teaspoon red wine vinegar
    • Chopped fresh parsley, for serving

    Instructions

    • Make the polenta: Bring 6 cups vegetable broth and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the polenta, then turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the polenta has thickened to your liking, 10 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the butter and nutritional yeast. Season to taste with salt and black pepper; cover and set aside.
    • Prepare the mushrooms: While the polenta simmers, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and add the mushrooms and rosemary to the skillet. Cook, tossing occasionally and adding a splash of olive oil if the pan looks dry, until the mushrooms have released their water and are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
    • Add the garlic and red-pepper flakes, and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. (Be careful not to let the garlic burn.) Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring to incorporate, until it turns a rusty brown color and begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan.
    • Add the red wine and cook, stirring and scraping the brown bits from the pan, until the liquid is reduced by about half.
    • Add the 1 cup vegetable broth, and bring to a simmer. Begin adding handfuls of kale, cooking and stirring until the kale wilts. Add ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid in the pan reduces and thickens, about 10 minutes.
    • Off the heat, stir in the vinegar and add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat the polenta over medium-low, adding a splash of broth to loosen it if necessary. Serve the polenta and braised mushrooms and kale in shallow bowls, sprinkled with parsley.

    Tip:

    • While many wines are naturally vegan, some use egg white or milk-based proteins to aid in the filtration process. Look for wines specifically labeled vegan to be safe.

    Resources

    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/snoring/symptoms-causes/syc-20377694#:~:text=Snoring%20occurs%20when%20air%20flows,causing%20these%20tissues%20to%20vibrate.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15580-snoring
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8718-sleep-apnea
    https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/snoring
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15527500/
    https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/sleep-disorders/snoring
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000720.htm
    https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23989984/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31509498/
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21129-oral-appliance-therapy-for-sleep-apnea/procedure-details
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12131-sleep-studies
    https://www.thespruceeats.com/crispy-grilled-polenta-recipe-996004
    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/polenta-nutrition#is-it-healthy
    https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-polenta
    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/good-carbs-bad-carbs
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00117.x
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12192
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17992183
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12081815/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12882880/
    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6539799/
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453018301009
    https://www.healthline.com/health/carotenoids
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29737665/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4260129/

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