Eat well, sleep well, eat better

Sleep is not just vital for mental fitness but also to keep a healthy waistline.

Getting enough sleep is the next frontier to a healthy lifestyle. In Germany alone, close to 50% of survey respondents complained about sleeping problems, while one out of seven takes sleeping pills at times. Consumption of sleeping pills increased five-fold over the past two decades. The worldwide trends are even more alarming.

Good sleep is as important as good food, drink and exercise. It influences creativity, performance, quality of life, and relationships. As Jürgen Zulley, Professor at the University of Regensburg puts it:” Too little sleep makes you fat, dumb and sick.”

Even worse: a recent study conducted by universities in Chicago and Brussels revealed that sleep deprivation alters brain chemicals in such way that the non-sleeper are unable to resist midnight snacking, which in turn leads to weigh gain, less sleep and more snacking, a vicious cycle.

It starts in middle school, continues at college and stretches across most of the adult working life: our modern day schedules are too full, consume content of too many media, engage online in too many social networking, and are stressed by ever increasing demands by employers, family and friends.

Due to stress, clutter and distractions we can’t fall asleep, wake up too often, and don’t sleep the hours we need. The result in many people: crankiness, sadness, overeating, depression, burn-out.

The solution does not require sleeping pills, drugs or alcohol: sleep awareness and mental training are an inexpensive, first start. Here are some interesting facts and factoids:

  • Sleep happens in four phases: a) falling asleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and dream sleep (also called REM or rapid eye movement sleep).
  • According to research of the University of Regensburg, the normal sleeper wakes up on average 28 times a night, most times immediately forgetting the incident.
  • What you think after waking up makes all the difference between good and bad sleep. Imagine some pleasant moments or simply tell yourself that you don’t have to get up and still have time for a good sleep. These auto-suggestive methods likely make you fall right back to deep or dream sleep.
  • Why do we and most other animal have to sleep? – a question that occupies the minds of researchers worldwide these days. What is known so far: sleep de-clutters the brain, reduces synaptic connections and strengthen those that are important, makes you able to learn and absorb more information. Thoughts, feelings and memories are re-ordered to make sense the next day.
  • Another vital role of sleep: to regulate the “metabolic brain” which influences the immune system and metabolism. Chronic sleeping disorder is one of the reasons for obesity, frequent sickness, and depression
  • Sleep builds memory and enables creativity (most associations and insights from what you learned during the days are made while you sleep). Thus you can adapt to changing environmental changes and impacts

In other words: sleep dopes your brain, builds consciousness and mental performance. That why we recommend to take sleep serious in 2012. Here are some essential preconditions:

  1. Your bedroom needs to be quiet and dark. If you have to choose: silence is better than fresh air from an open window;
  2. Set your thermostat so that you don’t freeze or sweat;
  3. Silence is better than open windows.
  4. Choose a mattress that is not too hard, just right for your weight;
  5. If your bed partner snores and disturbs your sleep, choose separate bedrooms over lack of sleep, anger and frustration;
  6. Don’t go to bed straight from working on your computer. Give it at least a 20 -minute intermission;
  7. If you can’t sleep, do something relaxing, like reading, ironing, putting stuff away;
  8. Overcome your fear of not being able to fall back to sleep, like any other fear can be overcome;
  9. Take sleeping pills like headache pills: only occasionally.

This blog summarizes an article in Der Spiegel (Issue 44/2011) and

Moderate alcohol consumption benefits your health

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There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that drinking too much alcohol is dangerous to your health, to the health of others and to society as a whole. For some people, even very few drinks of beer, wine or spirits per week can be harmful. And we wholeheartedly recommend to all of our readers, young and old, to drink and eat responsibly and with a conscious mind.

That said, we also want to point out the solid scientific evidence, that moderate alcohol consumption is actually beneficial to the health of most people.

Moderate means about 1 to 2 drinks for women and 3 to 4 drinks for men. A drink is defined as 12 – 14 g alcohol, which corresponds to about 1 to 2 glasses of white or red wine, 1 to 2 bottles of beer or one glass of hard liquor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate consumption of alcohol in any form reduces the risk of developing heart disease, of dying of a heart attack or stroke, developing gallstones or diabetes

And, not surprisingly, a review of numerous scientific studies, as reported in Science Direct indicates that light and moderate alcohol consumption reduces stress, increases overall affective expression, happiness, euphoria, conviviality and pleasant and carefree feelings, decreases depression, and improves certain types of cognitive performance, such as problem-solving and short-term memory. Moreover, alcohol in low and moderate doses has been effective in the treatment of geropsychiatric problems.

“Good” versus “bad” foods?

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Not an issue for a healthy diet.

It’s not a secret that your overall well-being depends on a healthy diet. And that your weight gains or losses are solely based on the amount of calories you take in every day. But does that mean you should not eat chocolate or burgers anymore and switch instead to quinoa, steamed Brussels sprouts and tofu? Is any type of food “good” or “bad”?

Not so, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (and we agree). In a new position paper published in February 2013, the Academy emphasizes, “that the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of healthy eating. All foods can fit within this pattern if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with physical activity.” A healthy diet balances the consumption of food and beverages with personal energy needs, rather than a focus on or avoidance of any one food or meal.

Most scientists and experts in Germany agree. More and more studies on both sides of the Atlantic show how much health depends on eating right and how much eating right depends on psychological factors and individual choices, rather than “good” or “bad” foods. (Read more on the latest research on food, nutrition and health in upcoming blog entries).

Our recommendation: save your money and don’t spend it on useless diets (most of which have a failure rate of over 90%), gastric bypasses or expensive medicine because you suffer diet related problems. Rather, spend some time to figure out what you really like to eat, how often and how much you should eat and when you should eat. If necessary, get some help to figure that out. Then monitor your own behavior and adjust your lifestyle to keep your optimal weight and health. Finally: spend your money on quality, good tasting food that provides the right mix of nutrients for your body and soul.

Salt and sugar: enjoy, but watch this combination

Boy with Basketbal_rectForget diet and nutrition supplements. A few minor changes of what and how much you eat will reduce weight over time.

Sugar and salt make food taste good. But how to loose weight? You don’t necessarily have to forgo your sweet treats, convenience snacks and fast food snacks. Just eat less of them and add delicious whole grains that fill you up until the next meal. Here are some suggestions:

German products
A light meal with whole grain breads, cheese, red cabbage and spaetzle.

Mindfully choose each meal based on salt and sugar content and combination. It is unrealistic to completely cut out pizza, French fries, chips and crackers, sweets and cereals from our diet. So, start reducing consumption of these items, just a little less each week for the next 52 weeks. And watch the combination of high salt/sugar meals: eat the burger without fries or fries without burger. Try this healthy German Meatball Sandwich.

Mineralwasser1Drink sparkling mineral water, skip the soda. Sparkling mineral water is better for your health and does not add sugar to your fast food meal. It’s also better than bottled water without nutrients. The bubbles and minerals are good for your digestive system and replace essential minerals you loose during work outs. Make this Rosehip Cooler (use sparkling water instead of alcohol!)

Eat with your nose. Your tongue only differentiates between five different sensations (salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami). Your nose will do the real work to determine thousands of taste sensations. A researcher from the University of Dresden recently found that you can actually reduce salt and sugar from food without making it taste bland. He imparted the food or packaging with strong aroma, such as fruity strawberry in low sugar food or concentrated onion in salty food and the test subjects reported the same taste sensations as if the food contained high sugar or salt.  Add as many spices herbs, fruits and  natural aromas to your reduced salt and sugar foods – you’ll enjoy them even better. Berlin-Meets-Beijing Salmon & Stir-Fry is a wonderful recipes full of interesting flavors.

Add more whole grain, nuts, raw fruits and vegetables and yogurt Mueslito your diet. You knew that this was coming. But indeed, the Harvard study claims that continually higher consumption of these items will decrease your weight over time. And you can add whole fat milk: it will add flavor and will not make you gain weight (no more than skim milk, anyway). We, of course, recommend whole grain breads (Mestemacher), whole grain muesli (Seitenbacher) or fruity jams (Maintal).  You can also make delicious and healthy Chocolate Oat Muesli Bagels at home.

Tell us what you think or do about reducing sugar and salt from your diet. Post comments on our Facebook page, Twitter or write an email to info@germanfoods.org