kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

To get a good night’s rest, you need to make healthier dietary choices, and vice versa.

There have been a lot of sleep disruptions this past year. The coronavirus pandemic, school and work disruptions and the election have kept sleep experts working hard to help people overcome their stress-related insomnia.

Among their recommendations:

  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Establish a nightly bedtime routine
  • Cut back on screen time and social media

Another very important factor is poor diet. The foods you eat can affect how well you sleep and your sleep patterns can affect your dietary choices. Researchers tracked diet and sleep for a group of healthy adults over the course of five nights and found that food choices during the day did affect sleep.

Data shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat and more sugar throughout the day is linked with lighter, less restorative sleep.

Eating more plants, fiber and foods rich in unsaturated fat, such as nuts, olive oil and avocado, help promote sound sleep.

Epidemiological studies consistently show that people with bad sleep tend to have poorer quality diets, with less protein, fewer vegetables and fruit, and a higher intake of added sugar from foods like sugary beverages. desserts, and ultra-processed foods.  These studies do not show cause or effect but can make the correlation.

Some of the trials have been funded by the food industry so there is no surprise that the largest marketer of kiwi fruits found that people assigned to eat two kiwis an hour before their bedtime every night for four weeks had improvements in their sleep. The authors of the study attribute their findings in part to an “abundance” of antioxidants in kiwis. The cherry juice industry found improved sleep in their study and attributed it to tart cherry juice’s ability to promote the release of tryptophan, one of the building blocks of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.

Marie-Pierre St. Onge, an associate professor of nutrition medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and the director of the Sleep Center of Excellence at Columbia, spent years studying the relationship between sleep and diet. She discovered that rather than focusing on one or two foods with sleep inducing properties, it is better to look at the overall quality of your diet.

In one randomized clinical trial, St-Onge recruited 26 healthy adults and controlled what they ate for four days, providing them with meals  prepared by nutritionists. Their sleep was monitored. On the fifth day, the subjects were allowed to eat whatever they wanted.  The researches discovered that eating a less healthy diet resulted in a reduction of slow-wave sleep, which is the deep, restorative kind.

The researchers found that carbohydrates have significant impact on sleep. People tend to fall asleep much faster at night when they consume a high-carb diet compared to a high-fat to high-protein diet.

The quality of the carbohydrates matters. Dr. St-Onge discovered the when people eat more sugar and simple carbs like those found in white bread, bagels, pastries and pasta, they wake up more frequently during the night. These carbs might get you to sleep quickly, but they do not sustain a deep, restorative sleep like carbs containing fiber and complex carbs.

“Complex carbohydrates provide a more stable blood sugar level,” St-Onge said. “So if blood sugar levels are more stable at night, that could be the reason complex carbohydrates are associated with better sleep.”

People who follow a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grain, herbs, spices, and olive oil are less likely to suffer from insomnia and short sleep.

The relationship between poor diet and bad sleep goes both ways: Scientists have found that as people lose sleep, they experience physiological changes that encourages them to seek out junk food. In clinical trials, healthy adults who are allowed to sleep only four or five hours a night end up consuming more calories and snacking more frequently throughout the day. They experience more hunger and their desire for sweets increases.

In men, sleep deprivation stimulates increased levels of gherkin, the “hunger hormone”. In women, restricted sleep leads to lower levels of GLP-1, a hormone that signals satiety.

Dr. St-Onge also discovered that when men and women were restricted to four hours of sleep for five nights in a row, they had greater activation in reward centers of the brain in response to pepperoni pizza, doughnuts, and candy compared to healthy food such as carrots, yogurt, oatmeal and fruit. After five nights of normal sleep, this pattern disappeared.

Researchers at King’s College in London demonstrated how proper sleep can increase your willpower to avoid unhealthy foods. Short sleepers who went through a program to help them sleep longer had improvements in their diet. The most striking change was that they cut about 10 grams of added sugar from their diets each day, about two and a half teaspoons.

So, diet and sleep are entwined. Improve one and you will improve the other.

  • Skimping on sleep can lead to weight gain, especially around the waist where stress-induced pounds often collect.
  • Just one night of shortened sleep can set the stage for insulin resistance. “Not sleeping enough causes a rise in cortisol and changes insulin sensitivity,” says functional-medicine practitioner Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH. Prolonged periods of inadequate sleep can cause chronic insulin resistance, which can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor-quality sleep appears to mess with the gut microbiome. Animal studies have linked inadequate sleep to changes in gut flora that trigger inflammation and affect insulin sensitivity.They’ve also shown that obstructive sleep apnea, which is a nighttime breathing disorder associated with snoring and poor sleep, decreases levels of the bacteria that produce butyrate. A short-chain fatty acid, butyrate has been studied for its health-promoting properties: It improves non-rapid-eye-movement sleep, which includes the phases when the body passes into deep sleep and performs its tissue-repair work. Low butyrate levels can lead to a self-reinforcing cycle of sleeplessness and compromised gut health.

Eating habits that can induce sleep:

  • Try not to go to bed with a full stomach. Let two to three hours pass before lying down. A lot of metabolic processes go on after eating that can disrupt sleep. A big meal before bed doesn’t let your heart rate drop to its lowest point where it is restorative.
  • Research suggests that eating a small carbohydrate-rich meal (sweet potato) or snack (hummus, nuts) in the evening helps some people fall asleep faster. This can also help to keep your blood sugar from dropping too low and disrupt sleep.
  • Studies link alcohol with disrupted and poor-quality sleep, as well as reduced time spent in restorative deep sleep. If you do enjoy a cocktail, finish it before 7 or 8 p.m.; this leaves the liver enough time to clear the alcohol from your system before you sleep.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of the first crops of the year. The plant emerges when temperatures rise into the 40s.  Rhubarb is a vegetable that requires cold winters to grow. As a result, it’s mainly found in mountainous and temperate regions around the world, especially in Northeast Asia. It’s also a common garden plant in North America and Northern Europe.

Stems harvested in early spring will be the most tender and flavorful. Rhubarb is naturally tart. Do not wait to harvest or buy in the store stalks that are too big around. It is a sign they are mature and they can be pithy and tough especially when hit by hot weather or drought. These thicker stems can be used for stewing, sauces, and jams.

Rhubarb has slender green and red stalks, with large, ruffled green leaves. It is legally classified a fruit, but rhubarb is technically it’s a vegetable.

The sour taste is mainly due to malic acid and oxalic acid and due to its sour taste, it’s rarely eaten raw. It wasn’t until the 18th century, when sugar became cheap and readily available, that rhubarb became a popular food. Before that, it was mainly used medicinally. In fact, its dried roots have been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

Every 100-gram serving of rhubarb provides 29.3 micrograms of vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and may limit neuronal damage in the brain. It contains infection-fighter vitamin C, along with vitamin A, another powerful natural antioxidant for good skin and mucous membranes, good vision, and possible protection against lung cancer.

Like other fruits and vegetables, it’s also high in fiber, providing similar amounts as oranges, apples, or celery.

A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked rhubarb with added sugar contains:

  • Calories: 116
  • Carbs: 31.2 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Protein: 0.4 grams
  • Vitamin K1: 26% of the DV
  • Calcium: 15% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 6% of the DV
  • Potassium: 3% of the DV
  • Folate: 1% of the DV

Rhubarb has folate, riboflavin, niacin, B vitamins and pantothenic acid. Good mineral sources include 12 milligrams of magnesium per 100-gram serving, along with iron, potassium and phosphorus.

One cup of cooked rhubarb contains 83 milligrams of calcium. Michigan State University lists rhubarb as one of the top “fruits” you can eat to get your regular dose of calcium.

Studies show that rhubarb’s polyphenol content may be even higher than that of kale. The antioxidants in rhubarb include anthocyanins, which are responsible for its red color. Rhubarb is also high in proanthocyanidins, also known as condensed tannins.

Rhubarb may be high in oxalates and should be eaten in moderation but cooking reduces its levels. Make sure to avoid the leaves.

 

How to Buy

  • Harvest (or buy in the store) rhubarb stalks when they are about as thick as your finger and at least 8 inches long.
  • Stalks 12 to 18 inches long and longer will be most tasty.
  • Color also varies:  ‘Victoria’ and ‘Linneaus’ have green stalks that blush a little red near the base; cultivars such as ‘Ruby’, ‘Valentine’, and ‘Canada Red’ have solid red stalks.
  • Rhubarb is a perennial plant. A rhubarb clump will be productive for 20 years or more. Do not harvest rhubarb the first year after planting from seed. The second-year harvest a few stalks over a four week period. The third-year after planting and the following years, harvest as many finger-thick-sized stalks at you like over eight to 10 weeks.

How to Store

Cut away the leafy top leaving only the colored stalks. Do not eat raw or cook rhubarb leaves or roots they contain oxalic acid which can cause convulsions, coma, and death  (but you have to eat a LOT of them for this to happen). The leaves are safe to compost.

Fresh harvested stalks are best for cooking and freezing.

Store rhubarb in a cold and moist place, 32°- 40°F and 95 percent relative humidity. Cold and moist storage can be a challenge. Refrigerators provide the cold, but they also dry the air. Wrap rhubarb stalks in a damp cloth or paper towel and put them in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator which will maintain humidity.

Cut stems will keep in the refrigerator for two to four weeks. Refresh stalks kept in the refrigerator by letting them stand in a glass of water before using it.

Chopped stems can be frozen in a silicone freezer bag for later use.

How to Cook

Rhubarb is most often served cooked in some manner because of its incredibly tart flavor when eaten raw. While you can find recipes featuring raw rhubarb, they often involve soaking it in honey or another natural sweetener to make it palatable. As for the sweetener, keeping it as minimal and as organic as possible is always the best.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars

Minimalist Baker/ Photo credit: Minimalist Baker

9 Servings

Ingredients

CRUST

  • 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil (melted)

FILLING

  • 2 heaping cups rhubarb (stems removed – chopped into 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 1 heaping cup berries (such as strawberries or raspberries – large pieces chopped)
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar (plus more to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch

CRUMBLE TOPPING

  • 3 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 2 Tbsp gluten-free flour (or Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten Free Blend)
  • 1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 Tbsp coconut oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper.
  • Add oats, almonds, sea salt, and coconut sugar to a food processor or high-speed blender and pulse into a fine meal, making sure no large pieces remain.
  • Add melted coconut oil and pulse to incorporate. It should form a loose dough that forms when squeezed between two fingers. Add more melted oil if too dry.
  • Spread the mixture into the lined baking dish and press down into an even layer with your fingers or a flat object (such as a drinking glass).
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then increase heat to 375 degrees F and bake for 5 minutes more, or until the crust is fragrant and the edges are slightly golden brown. Set aside.
  • In the meantime, add rhubarb, strawberries, orange juice, coconut sugar, and cornstarch to a medium saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until slightly softened and bubbly – about 5-7 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Then remove from heat and set aside.
  • Next prepare crumble by adding all ingredients to a small mixing bowl and using a fork or your fingers to mix ingredients into a crumble. Set aside.
  • Add strawberry-rhubarb mixture to the pre-baked crust and spread into an even layer. Then top with crumble topping and spread evenly to cover fruit.
  • Reduce oven heat back to 350 degrees F and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the strawberry topping is warm and bubbly and the crumble is golden brown.
  • Remove squares from oven and let cool completely – 1-2 hours. Once cooled, gently lift bars from pan and slice into 9 even squares.
  • Store leftovers in a well-sealed container at room temperature for 2 days, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or the freezer up to 1 month.

Resources

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https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-rhubarb-fruit-or-vegetable_n_7534888
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/food/the-plate/2016/05/18/does-rhubarb-deserve-its-killer-reputation/
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https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168169/nutrients
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