Bakers Journal

Sweet dreams

February 26, 2013
By Kell Sloan

Nearly 10 million Canadians, and almost six out of 10 Americans of all
ages, slept poorly one or more times this week, according to the
National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Insitutes
of Health.

Nearly 10 million Canadians, and almost six out of 10 Americans of all ages, slept poorly one or more times this week, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Insitutes of Health. In fact, polls published by the National Sleep Foundation stretching back to 1999 indicate that insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep is the most common sleep compliant among North Americans. The issue is far more serious than it sounds. An article entitled, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An unmet Public Health Problem, published by the Insitute of Medicine in America, estimates that insomnia is responsible for more than $100 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and property and environmental damage.

While there are many causes of insomnia, what we eat before going to bed can directly affect how well we sleep. The Gale Encycolpedia of Medicine 4th Edition states that not only are foods and drinks high in caffeine, such as coffee, chocolate, and tea likely to artificaly stimulate us and keep many of us awake at night, but they’re also usually loaded with sugar or artifical sweetners and provide little nutritional value. Fortunately for bakers and food manufacturers, common ingredients that many of us use to create snack foods can help promote a good night sleep.

By definition, a snack is something to enjoy occasionally, but a survey conducted among readers suggests that 75 per cent of respondents often consume food before they go to bed. In fact, pre-bedtime snacking can be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet, according to the Dietitians of Canada, if you snack wisely. At the same time, according to a report by the Global Industry Analysts (GIA), the global snack food market is likely to be worth US$334 billion by 2015.


Of course, we are talking about more than just sweet goods. The Snack Food Association estimates that the savoury snack food category alone grew by more than 5.3 per cent and produced more than US$67.9 billion in sales last year. With the American market alone accounting for close to 44 per cent (or more than $25 billion) of global savoury market sales, there is a vast untapped market to be found in pre-bedtime snacks.

In its 2012 report, the SymphonyIRI Group states that almost 55 per cent of snacks are eaten in the evening; for most of us, that means three hours prior to bedtime. The same report indicates that the snacking industry will continue to grow beyond its current 5.8 per cent annual rate for the foreseeable future. Given consumers’ dependence on snacks as alternatives to meals, an incessant demand for healthier snacks, and convenient packages such as bite-sized, and single-serve packs, the baking industry is in a good position to meet demand.

While often vilified as unhealthy and contributing to obesity, the baking industry has sought to change its image and satisfy consumer demands for healthier food choices by reducing sodium, sugar and fats and increasing functional ingredients that provide qualities such as heart-healthy or digestive health benefits. According to the same SymphonyIRI Group report, more than 60 per cent of consumers are looking for snacks that go beyond basic nutrition, offer whole grains, high fibre and fewer calories.

In recent years, all the talk of “portion distortion” and a near constant barrage of media stories discussing obesity has many adults looking for ways to downsize their snacking without giving it up completely. Consumers are interested in caloric control, not sacrifice, and as a 2008 study by Vanderbilt University concluded, a nighttime snack will not lead to weight gain as long as the snack does not cause the person to exceed needed energy intake.

Two of the biggest snack makers, Kraft Foods, Inc. (with its Nabisco brand of 100-calorie snack packs) and Kellogg’s (with its Right Bites brand) have exploited the bite-sized market trend to great success. For those who crave treats before bedtime but have a hard time with portion control, these bite-size products are ideal.

Portion size is an important consideration for pre-bedtime snacking choices, as foods heavy in calories and fat rev up digestion and blood sugar, keeping you awake. One of the keys to a restful night’s sleep is to calm your brain down, and foods that are high in tryptophan contribute to a restful sleep.

The best bedtime snack is one that is low-calorie and contains complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, a low amount of protein, and some calcium and magnesium. Complex carbohydrates are slowly broken down into glucose, providing a gradual and steady stream of energy, avoiding the roller-coaster effects of plummeting blood sugar followed by the release of stress hormones that keep you awake. The Gale Encycolpedia of Medicine 4th edition indicates that calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates a person’s biological clock. That’s why dairy products which contain both tryptophan and calcium are one of the top sleep-inducing foods, according to the Dairy Farmers of Canada website.

Tryptophan is also a routine constituent in most protein-based foods and is particularly plentiful in ingredients such as eggs, whole grains, white wheat flour, rice, millet, soybeans, sesame seeds, unsweetened baking chocolate, oats, dried dates and bananas. As the Gale Enycolpedia of Medicine 4th Edition points out, once consumed, tryptophan is converted into an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which is the raw material the brain uses to build the relaxing and sleep-inducing neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.

Adequate levels of serotonin promote deep, restful sleep and a low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, low-protein snack with tryptophan-containing ingredients such as a whole grain banana muffin bite with dates, oats and flaxseed would make this calming amino acid more available to the brain. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin that helps clear the blood stream of amino acids that perk up the brain, such as tyrosine. This allows more tryptophan to enter the brain and be used to manufacture other sleep-inducing substances, such as melatonin according to the U.S. Library of Medicine website, MedlinePlus.

Whether savoury or sweet, the global market for snack foods is forecasted to grow at a healthy rate through 2015 and nutritional snacks are vying for their share of meal substitutes. The bedtime snacking market is a unique demographic cluster, but bakers can look at this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves by promoting products that offer a low-calorie, healthy snack option for a good night’s sleep.

Kell Sloan, artisan bread baker and former owner of Black Eyed Susan’s Bakery in Nova Scotia, also runs a management consulting agency.

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