Trouble sleeping? Consider these snooze-friendly foods

Is there anything worse than waking up after a night of no sleep? How about going to work or school with barely an hour of shuteye from the previous night? No matter how you look at it, poor sleep habits can lead to a number of physical and neurological problems – ranging from decreased cardiovascular health, stress management and even weight loss difficulties. Increased exercise is one way to help catch some more Zzzs, but you might also want to
consider incorporating some of these snooze-friendly foods into your regular diet.

Tea
Tea isn’t exactly the first thing you would think of as a sleep aid – especially considering how much caffeine is contained inside. However, WomansDay.com notes that many decaf varities – particularly chamomile and green teas – can help you fall asleep more easily. Green tea actually possess a substance known as theanine, which may assist with better sleep habits.

Cherries
Got a soft spot for cherries? Well, this delicious fruit can also offer a helping hand when it comes to falling asleep each night. Forbes.com notes that fresh cherries are a great natural source of melatonin, a substance that may be able to promote a more restful night’s sleep.

Bananas
Not just a quick breakfast, bananas may also be beneficial as a snack right before bed, according to the Huffington Post. The reason is twofold – bananas are sources of both magnesium and potassium. Magnesium may aid the body in relaxing nerves and muscles, while potassium can do the same, on top of promoting better blood circulation and digestion.

Dairy
That old idea of drinking a warm glass of milk before bed might not be so far off the mark. WomansDay.com reports that dairy products that are packed with calcium can be great sleep aids. Calcium may be able to reduce stress levels, relax the body and calm the mind for a better night’s sleep. This goes for milk and yogurt as well.

Eating habits
Beyond eating the right foods, it’s important to follow healthy dietary habits to enjoy a good night’s sleep, reports EverydayHealth.com. In particular, you should avoid gorging on snacks right before bed, as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Alternately, you shouldn’t go to bed hungry either, so choose pre-bedtime snacks that are light and won’t hurt your stomach. The source also suggests sticking with familiar foods at night so you don’t have an unexpectedly poor reaction to what you’re eating.

 

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A few unconventional weight loss tips

Just about anyone can tell you that improving weight management involves eating better – as in, more fruits and vegetables as opposed to snack foods – and getting more exercise. But there are a few less obvious ideas that could also lead to shedding a few pounds – which won't just make you look fitter, but also help improve heart health, and perhaps even enhance other aspects of your life. 

Try new things
If the routine you're accustomed to has led to an unhealthy weight, then you shouldn't be afraid to change things up a bit.  But if you're eating the same foods everyday, even if it's part of a diet, you're bound to eventually get bored and lose interest in eating healthy. Therefore, consider trying foods you've been led to assume you wouldn't like. The experts at EatingWell encourage readers to try replacing beef, when a recepie calls for it, with Portobello mushrooms. They continue to note that using vegetable soup as an appetizer could help cut down the amount of calories you're liable to consume during the rest of the meal.  

Dog ownership
Back in 2011, the New York Times published an article pointing out that owning a dog could help you get skinnier. It's easy to see why, since puppies are notoriously energetic, so keeping up with them is bound to jump start your cardiovascular health at least a little bit. Meanwhile, adult dogs need daily walks, which means you'll be walking a lot more as well.

Drink lots of water
Unlike juice, soda and virtually every other beverage, there's no calories or fat in water. Therefore, Active Health and Fitness advises readers to up their water intake if they're hoping to get their weight under control. The source explains that water comprises 70 percent of the human body, and has benefits for digestive health. It also contributes to reducing between-meal cravings. However, you might want to consider drinking filtered water instead of straight from the tap.

Have a good time
The source goes on to say that celebrating small successes and having fun are also important parts of maintaining an effective weight loss regimen. Don't be afraid to let your schedule lapse a little bit when it needs to, and it's always easier to do something you're enjoying than it is to keep up a routine that feels like a chore. 

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A few of the benefits of eating fish

While the omega-3 fatty acid content of fish – particularly herring, salmon and mackerel – has long been said to have benefits for heart health, two new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences go into intricate detail on the topic of why adding fish to your diet may improve your well being.

A statement from Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Jena University Hospital – the organizations behind the pair of studies – explains that fish shouldn't hinder digestive health and is loaded with protein. The organization's new research specifically pertains to the fatty acid known as docosahexaeonic acid, also called DHA.

"Administration of DHA should result in an expansion of the blood vessels and consequently a drop in blood pressure," announced professor Michael Bauer, M.D., of Jena University Hospital.

Other expert opinions on eating fish
Plenty of other experts have documented the benefits of the fatty acid present in fish oil. For instance, the Mayo Clinic has stated that a mere serving or two of fish every week could lessen an individual's chances of succumbing to a heart attack by approximately 33 percent. This is due to omega-3 acids purported ability to reduce inflammation and how the unsaturated fatty acid could, in fact, improve unhealthy cholesterol levels, unlike the cholesterol typically found in meat. However, the organization cautions that catfish and tilapia fish are thought to have a higher content of the bad kind of fatty acid.

Meanwhile, Medindia.net points to a laundry list of conditions regular fish consumption is said to reduce the chances of developing, including asthma, depression and diabetes, and it's also said to lessen the likelihood of a pregnancy coming into fruition prematurely. The source continues to note that omega-3 acids could improve brain health and help preserve the retinas of the eyes.

What kind of fish is best?
It goes without saying that some methods of preparing fish may be healthier than others. While frying fish notably isn't on SouthBeachDiet.com's list of the healthiest ways to prepare fish, grilling, poaching, baking and broiling are all mentioned as healthy options for cooking fish. 

There are disadvantages to eating some types of fish, however. Foodbeat.com indicates that the high levels of mercury in certain types of tuna, swordfish, Spanish mackerel and gag grouper may make people want to think about not including them in their diet.

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Losing weight when you’re young may improve long-term health

New research released by Johns Hopkins University suggests that the earlier in life individuals get a handle on their weight management, the greater their chances are of avoiding obesity-related diseases. These findings appear in the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research. 

For this study, the scientists examined the effects of high calorie diets on two sets of genetically engineered mice – one group of 2-month-old mice and another comprised of mice who were as old as 7 months. In mice time, 2-month-old mice are considered young adults, while 7-month-old mice are thought to be middle-aged. All of these mice lacked a hormone that would naturally let them know when they had had enough to eat, which caused them to become obese. Once they were given a low-calorie diet for four weeks, the heart health of the younger mice seemed to improve from the damage done during their time being obese, which was not the case for the older group of mice. 

"We don't know whether the same principle would apply to humans as well, and if so, what the turning point would be. But the basic message is that losing weight sooner rather than later would be more beneficial," said study author Lili Barouch, M.D. "It certainly warrants further study to see if the findings would be similar in people."

In an interview with Everyday Health, Barouch noted that while it's unknown whether this recent mouse study applies to people, some previous mouse studies are thought to reflect the effects of obesity on humans. Therefore, she said it's unwise to put off weight loss for a person whose body mass has risen to unhealthy levels. She notes that there's no cure for congestive heart failure, which is one possible result of obesity, and some people put off changing their lifestyle until after they've developed this and other obesity-related conditions. 

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A handful of good and bad foods for sleep

There's more benefits to getting a good night's sleep than feeling well-rested in the morning. There's lots of research indicating that getting a full seven or eight hours of sleep can help make weight management easier, as having more energy to move around improves the body's ability to use food eaten during the course of the day. Other studies – including one from the Harvard School of Public Health – suggest that getting enough sleep helps control hormones linked to appetite. So not only will sleeping more provide more energy to use, it may also reduce hunger. 

Aside from the alertness factor. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that getting enough sleep should help people complete complex mental tasks, and reduce their chances of being harmed in an automobile accident, as these are often tied to a lack of alertness.

In light of the importance of sleep, The Huffington Post put together a list of foods that are most likely to interfere with getting a solid night of shuteye. The news source spoke with Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine to add her expertise to the story.

Coffee
This one really should go without saying, but coffee, other beverages containing caffeine and even chocolate can keep you up later than you'd prefer to be. However, the caffeine content of chocolate depends greatly on the brand, Baron told the news source. Nonetheless, it's worth remembering that some candy bars have as much caffeine as the typical can of soda.

Entrees
The Post's list of foods that may contribute to sleep deprivation also includes fatty foods, spicy foods and steaks. The former two are known to contribute to heartburn, while the latter's protein content may simply make it difficult to digest. 

"Your body's not designed to be digesting food when it's sleeping," explained Baron.

In addition, a 2007 study on how fatty foods cited by the news source suggests that foods with a high fat content may disrupt the natural flow of a brain chemical called orexin, which influences both appetite and sleep patterns. 

Water and other beverages
For reasons we probably don't have to explain, drinking a glass of water within the two hours before you're planning on hitting the hay could result in you waking up in the middle of the night and rushing to the restroom. 

On the other end of the spectrum, other news providers have pointed to some foods that may improve a person's ability to wake up well-rested the next morning, some of which may be surprising for some people.

Milk and turkey
As anyone who's found themselves thoroughly sedated after eating several slices of Thanksgiving turkey is fully aware, the chemical tryptophan can make you drowsy. The human body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin, a chemical known for its ability to create feelings of contentment, according to the Washington D.C. news provider WTOP.com. The source also notes that some tryptophan is present in milk. Warm milk, RealAge.com suggests, summons up subconscious memories of infancy, and may trigger feelings of reassurance. 

Bananas
The legendary yellow fruit is pointed to by both RealAge and WTOP as a good sleep aiding food. RealAge even goes so far as to describe bananas as "practically a sleeping pill in a peel." The natural muscle-relaxing substances known as magnesium and potassium are what causes bananas to be potentially beneficial for sleeping well. 

Caffeine-free tea
While we've been cautioned against drinking beverages too late into the evening, Valerian and Chamomile tea are noted by both sources as beverages with soothing effects that may help knock a person out. 

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Recommended supplements for weight loss

Dieting and exercising more are, of course, the most important things a person with weight management issues can do to drop his or her weight down to a healthier level. However, taking a supplement or two a day could help give those looking to shed a few pounds the extra "oomph" they need to meet their goals.

There's a litany of information out there about weight loss, so we pulled together what we consider some of the more helpful thoughts about supplements that expert sources have offered up on various websites.

Carnitine
Writing for The Huffington Post, Nicholas Perricone, M.D., includes carnitine on his list of the most highly recommended supplements to help keep weight in check, although it works best alongside omega-3 fatty acids. The author and expert in the fields of dermatology and anti-aging explains that carnitine helps speed up metabolism by getting fatty acids where they need to be in the cells to get turned into energy.

Mango seed fiber
Meanwhile, a compilation of preferred weight loss supplements put together by Forbes includes mango seed fiber, which has been used in Africa as a natural means of losing weight for some time. While studies are being conducted on its effectiveness, it's also said to have antibiotic and pain relief elements, according to the source.

Green tea
Noting first and foremost that it's a known antioxidant, Byron J. Richards' Wellness Resources explains that the caffeine present in green tea assists with metabolism, which could help a person burn through calories and fat. The Mayo Clinic agrees that green tea extract may reduce appetite while improving metabolism, however it also says that scientific studies haven't quite confirmed this.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Among the many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, Fox News reports that omega-3-loaded fish oil can help ease the transition of fat into energy by keeping insulin levels where they're supposed to be. In addition, by improving blood flow, it could result in a more effective exercise regimen.

Vitamin D
Also on Fox New's list of effective weight management supplements is vitamin D, which is also said to improve heart health, and provide many other elements for healthy living. Vitamin D helps control weight a few different ways, according to the source. It aids with insulin response, which improves the body's ability to use food as fuel instead of turning it into fat. Not getting enough vitamin D may also make it harder for individuals to know when they've had enough to eat, as a deficiency has been connected to the hormone leptin.

Other ideas for weight loss
There's more to losing weight than simply taking a few pills every morning. USA Today points out that it helps to have a social support system – whether it's friends or family or both, the source notes that dieters with some of their own cheerleaders tend to lose more weight than those who go it completely on their own. Dieters who keep a journal of everything they eat over the course of a day also knock off more pounds than those who don't. Rechecking a food journal everyday gives a person a good idea of how much he or she is eating, and whether or not more healthy food is getting eaten than unhealthy food. USA Today points to studies linking food journals to dieters losing twice as much weight as those who opt to not document their own daily eating habits.

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Study shows organic vegetables may have health benefits

Looking to up your vitamin C intake, or increase antioxidant content in your daily diet? New findings from researchers in the University of Ceara, Brazil, indicate that organic tomatoes may be a more effective means to do so than consuming tomatoes grown on typical farms.  

The science team – led by Maria Raquel Alcantara Miranda – states that tomatoes from non-organic farms are under more stress than those grown in ordinary farms, and they suspect that the increased stress may be what reduces the presence of certain nutrients in these plants. However, it is noteworthy that the organic tomatoes in their study tended to be as much as 40 percent smaller than the non-organic kind.

In this instance, "stress" means a greater amount of plant immune system chemicals due to the enhanced risk of environmental predators and disease. A follow up report from the Globe and Mail, which includes an interview with one of the study authors, notes that more defensive chemicals may be a good thing for humans that can be found in larger, stressed tomatoes. 

Nonetheless, there was more vitamin C in the smaller tomatoes in the international study. 

"The contents in phenolic compounds and in vitamin C were 139 percent and 55 percent higher, respectively. That is quite a lot," Laurent Urban of France's University of Avignon told the news provider.

In a report from NPR, University of Florida tomato researcher Harry Klee speculated that it was the size – not the farming techniques – that accounts for the greater nutrients in organic tomatoes.

"The modern varieties [of tomatoes] are designed to produce very large numbers of fruits," he told the news provider. But the nutrients don't increase alongside the size of the fruit. Instead, he said, they are reduced. "If I take two plants on conventional farms and reduce the fertilizer levels on one, I'll get 40 percent smaller fruits with higher nutrient content."

The pluses and minuses of organic food
According to The Mayo Clinic, the jury is still out as to whether organic foods are truly better for one's health than ordinary vegetables. Some people are willing to shoulder the slightly extra cost and quicker spoilage time in light of the lack of pesticides  and food additives used to grow them.

Meanwhile, NPR reported on a meta-study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that was released in September of 2012, which explained that there's no hard evidence showing the organic fruits and vegetables contain more health benefits than the ordinary kind. Using organic fertilizer and eschewing pesticides could have numerous benefits for the environment, but may not necessarily produce products that will be healthier for humans.

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Tops myths about obesity and weight loss

There's so much information out there about weight loss and weight management, it's hard to know which advice to follow. Does eating a big breakfast really help? What about sleeping more? Can walking an additional 20 minutes a day really lead to a slimmer waistline over time? 

Findings have been released in the New England Journal of Medicine that show that many popular myths about keeping weight under control may not be as effective as some media and word of mouth claims. 

Mark Hyman, M.D., wrote for The Huffington Post that it's been routinely said that having more sex will help with weight loss. However, how much energy is exerted during "the act" depends on numerous variables. While sex can blast through 100-300 calories per participant, a six minute episode of intimacy – which, according to Hyman, is average – will only burn 21 calories. That's only slightly more calories than are spent during watching television for the same amount of time. 

Having breakfast, on the other hand, can have benefits for weight loss, but only if the breakfast is high in protein, and of a high enough quantity to satisfy and control appetite for the rest of the day.  Fruits and vegetables – in addition to enhancing your antioxidant intake – could also help you lose weight, if for no other reason than you're not filling up on junk food. 

Additional benefits of Mediterranean diet
One popular weight loss strategy that has been said to effective is the Mediterranean diet – which is packed with olive oil, unrefined grains, as well as fruits and vegetables.  Reuters recently reported on a study that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and while the study made the strongest case for the Mediterranean diet in its abilities to encourage weight loss and blood sugar control in people with diabetes – low-carb, high protein, low glycemic and low sugar diets were shown to help keep diabetes in check and promote weight loss almost as much. 

"We were quite surprised by the Mediterranean diet in particular," lead author Olubukola Ajala from the U.K.'s Western Sussex Hospitals. "I would have thought that low-carb would have been the best for losing weight, but Mediterranean seems to be better."

For this meta-study, Ajala and her colleagues looked at 20 prior studies on specific types of diets and their effect of people with type 2 diabetes. 

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Changing your diet might help you sleep better

If you're having trouble getting enough sleep every night, it's not impossible your diet has something to do with it. 

According to a study that recently appeared in the journal Appetite, eating a greater variety of foods increases the amount of nutrients you take in, which may help you sleep better. This study was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Time Magazine and Men's Health magazine both reported on the results. 

"It reminds people that we have come to the point in our society where we recognize that our diet is important to our health. We don't always act on it, but we recognize it," Michael Grandner, Ph.D., study author and expert from the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the university told Time Magazine. "We haven't come there with sleep yet. People don't brag about how much they eat anymore, we used to, but we don't anymore, but we still show off about how little sleep we get."

According to Men's Health, Grandner and his associates examined data provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to bring about these conclusions. Participants slept between five hours per night, which was considered far less than recommended, and nine hours, which is more than the typically encouraged seven or eight hours. Then, the subjects partook in interviews regarding what they had eaten within the last 24 hours.

Grandner told the news source that he suspects getting more nutrients improves the body's ability to function the way it's meant to, which translates into a healthier sleeping routine. While he doesn't know exactly why more nutrients seem to have this effect, he points to lycopene – an antioxidant – vitamin C, selenium, theobromine – which has benefits for heart health – and lauric acid – as elements he supposes aid with sleep. 

Sleep may also help with weight management
Following up on the Pennsylvania University's results, The Guardian recalled a July of 2012 study that emerged from the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Germany. While plenty of prior studies have indicated that a healthy sleeping regimen can help prevent obesity, this data from European scientists determined that not sleeping enough may leave you feeling hungrier, as well as reduce your ability to burn calories by leaving you with less energy.  

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Parents’ habits may impact child’s weight management

To an extent, it should go without saying that mom and dad’s eating and exercise regimens may rub off on their offspring. However, a pair of new studies detail some specifics as to how parents’ lifestyles may influence their child’s chances of developing obesity. 

The first – put together by analysts at Washington State University – related how a mother’s attitude towards family mealtime can correspond to how much and what kinds of food her children eat. 

“The problem is no longer food scarcity, but too much food,” said primary researcher Halley Morrison, who completed this work for her honors thesis. “This is especially true when kids are so young their environment is primarily based on what their parents are doing.”

With the aid of WSU chair of the Department of Human Development, Tom Power, Morrison looked at almost 225 surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center. The survey participants were black and Latino Head Start students and their caregivers. The results showed that moms with emotionally-based appetites – that is, they ate in response to stress or other feelings – or were especially susceptible to the sensory pleasures of certain foods tended to raise kids who ate a significant amount. This is compared to moms who forced their children to eat everything on their dinner plate, whose offspring tended to be more finicky about what they consumed.

Obese dads may alter children’s DNA
Meanwhile, in an examination of how men’s health can influence their children’s risk for developing numerous ongoing conditions, a study from Duke University Medical Center shows that infants whose fathers were obese were more likely to have certain preventive DNA genes “turned off,” according to researchers.  

“Our genes are able to adapt to our environment. However, we adjust in a way that may be problematic later,” said Cathrine Hoyo, Ph.D., M.P.H., the primary author of the research. 

Hoyo and her associates looked at the umbilical cords of almost 80 young children from parents participating in Duke’s Newborn Epigenetics Study. It was shown that the IGF2 gene – which is linked to a reduced chance of developing certain cancers  – was much more likely to be working at its optimal capacity in infants whose fathers had healthy weight, as compared to obese fathers. 

It is suspected that this gene may be affected by conditions such as obesity, although researchers say further studies would be needed to confirm this. 

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