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Ask Elsa: Are there any foods to beat insomnia?

Q I SOMETIMES find it difficult to get to sleep at night, particularly if I eat late. A friend mentioned that there are certain foods that can hinder sleep but she wasn't very specific, can you elaborate on this topic please?

A It's true that while some foods can help you sleep (oats, bananas, cherries, dairy, nuts, eggs etc), others can have the opposite effect. Spicy, sugary, high-protein or high-fat foods eaten late can lead to sleep-busting heartburn or indigestion. Ideally you should eat dinner two to three hours before bed to allow your body time to digest, our digestive systems simply weren't designed to work lying down.

It's also important to note that caffeine can stay in our system for as long as eight hours, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, it would be best to either eliminate it altogether or avoid it from lunch time onwards.

Alcohol is a sedative and can help you nod off initially. In fact, alcohol actually works on the same receptors that sleeping tablets do. One drink may be okay, but if you have two or more, it can prevent you from getting into the deeper stages of sleep. This could lead to waking numerous times during the night and feeling unrefreshed in the morning.

Q I've recently cut down on red meat so I'm looking for good alternative sources of iron. I read that quinoa is a good source but I'm not sure how to cook or serve it, any ideas?

A Quinoa, pronounced 'keen-wah', is an easy-to-cook and versatile grain (it's used as a grain but actually is a seed relative of a leafy green plant similar to spinach) It can be bought in most health food shops and many supermarkets.

To cook it you should ideally leave it soaking for about 30 minutes in cold water, then put into a fine sieve and rinse under running water. However, if time is an issue, you could skip the soaking.

Use one part quinoa to two parts water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. For extra flavour, I'd recommend adding half a teaspoon of Marigold vegetable bouillon powder or else a pinch of sea salt.

Cooked quinoa has a fluffy, slightly crunchy texture and has a delicate nutty flavour. It works well as a replacement in rice or pasta dishes such as curries or spaghetti bolognaise.

Combine cooked chilled quinoa with a can of mixed beans (rinsed and drained), crumbled feta, pumpkin seeds, chopped scallions and coriander, for a light lunch or salad dish. It also works really well added to soups.

Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritional therapist. She offers one-to-one consultations to treat your individual health concerns. www.elsajones nutrition.ie