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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is an apple a good bedtime treat?

Photo source: Shutterstock
As parents we try to get as many fruits and vegetables in our kids as they will take, so when Junior asks for a bedtime snack, it is tempting to allow a piece of fruit. Sounds healthy, right?  Surely better than ice cream...

An apple is healthy and can be a great part of a healthy snack, but kids (and adults) shouldn't have a high carbohydrate snack before bed without some protein and / or fat.

Why?

When we eat, our body senses the increase in blood sugar and sends out insulin to store the sugar in cells for future energy. An apple (or other fruit) is high in carbohydrates (sugar) and low in fat and protein. Sugars and can be quickly stored, lowering the blood sugar pretty fast unless there is fat or protein to stabilize it.

Fats and proteins are more complex to digest.  They must first be converted into smaller molecules before insulin can store the food for energy.  This allows a more gradual fall of the blood sugar.

Why is this important at bedtime?

We always have some sugar in our blood, ideally 70-100 mg/dl, but rising after eating and falling when fasting (not eating).  Normal sugar levels give our cells energy for all they need to do. We go for many hours without eating again when we sleep all night. If the insulin level is still high after storing all the easy to store carbohydrates but there aren't more molecules from the breakdown of protein or fat around to start storing, the insulin lowers the normal blood sugar to unsafe levels.  This is especially dangerous at night because one early sign that the blood sugar is too low is tiredness, which is unnoticed when asleep.

Diabetics should be especially aware of this response because their body does not regulate insulin normally, and they can suffer from severe low sugar if too much insulin is given without the proper balance of nutrients.

It would be extremely uncommon for a person with normal sugar management to have serious consequences of low blood sugar (such as coma or seizures) from this apple before bed, but without a good sugar level, the body will not get the most benefits of sleep: restoration of the body and growth in children.

So what's my recommendation for that bedtime snack? Go ahead and give that apple-- with a glass of milk, yogurt, peanut butter, cheese, or other food with protein.

And ice cream isn't all that bad as far as a snack that won't lower blood sugar too much... it just has less nutritional value.  So as a fun treat when kids are eating enough fruits and veggies the rest of the day and have gotten exercise and not an overabundance of empty calories, it's okay to have an ice cream once in awhile.  After all, it's made from milk, so not all bad!

Which reminds me of this great Bill Cosby clip: Chocolate Cake  (Who says we can't have a little fun when talking nutrition?)