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- Eating late at night isn’t unhealthy, but some choices are healthier than others.
- Avoid processed foods and foods high in caffeine and sugar like chocolate.
- Reach for whole foods high in protein and healthy fat like nut butters, greek yogurt, and edamame.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Do you find yourself getting hungry and wanting to munch on something at night? There’s nothing wrong with having a midnight snack if you’re hungry, as long as you do it right and pick healthy options rather than junk foods.
Related Article Module: Eating later at night does not cause weight gain, study finds
In fact, a 2015 study found that eating small, nutritious meals at night can be good for blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and insulin resistance. You should try to eat an hour before you go to sleep, to give your body some time to digest the food.
“It’s a myth that you have to stop eating at a certain time of the day,” says Eleana Kaidanian, RD, a nutritionist with her own private practice.
Here are 11 healthy late-night snacks as well as some insight as to why you might find yourself staring at your refrigerator at night, according to Kaidanian.
11 healthy snacks to eat late at night
1. Plain Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is packed with protein, calcium, and probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help you build a healthy gut microbiome, which can affect everything from your digestion to your immunity.
Top your bowl of greek yogurt with some cherries for added benefits. Cherries may help promote better sleep because they contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
Edamame is a low-calorie source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Kaidanian suggests steaming or microwaving edamame pods and seasoning them with a drizzle of lemon juice or soy sauce. She says you can also eat them roasted, if you prefer munching on something crunchy.
4. A date with a handful of walnuts
Walnuts contain healthy fats and protein whereas dates contain nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and fiber. A handful of walnuts can be pretty filling and eating a fresh or dried date with it can help satisfy your sweet tooth. However, both dates and walnuts are high in calories so be careful not to over indulge.
5. Roasted chickpeas
“If you are craving something crunchy and salty try roasted chickpeas over potato chips,” says Kaidanian. You can season them with salt and spices, per your preferences. Chickpeas are a good source of protein and fiber and they also offer several vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamin A. Alternatively, Kaidanian also suggests roasted fava beans.
6. Roasted pistachios
Pistachios are a good source of healthy, unsaturated fats, which are linked to lower cholesterol and better heart health. These nuts also contain nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin E, protein, and antioxidants. Kaidanian suggests oven roasting them in the shell before you eat them, to give them that extra crunch.
Oats are a fiber-rich grain that are linked to lower cholesterol, better blood sugar control, and reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Kaidanian suggests cooking the oats with water and adding chia seeds to them, to bump up the nutrition content.
8. Air-popped popcorn
Popcorn is actually a whole grain that is rich in fiber and nutrition. While store-bought varieties of popcorn are loaded with salt, unhealthy chemicals, and saturated fats, homemade popcorn makes for a healthy and nutritious snack. Kaidanian suggests seasoning the popcorn to your tastes; you can add olive oil, a dash of salt, and seasonings like basil, paprika, or turmeric to it, for instance.
9. A handful of olives
While olive oil is considered healthy, whole olives are in fact healthier, since some of the nutrients are lost while processing them into oil. Olives are a rich source of healthy unsaturated fats and they also contain vitamin E and several phytochemicals, which are plant compounds with antioxidant properties. Green olives are less ripe when they are picked and have a lower fat content than black olives, which are picked at a more mature stage.
10. Hummus with veggies
Made of chickpeas, hummus is a protein-rich snack that is quite filling. You can use store-bought hummus or make your own at home, with some olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, yogurt, salt, and spices. Pair it with carrots or other veggies of your choice, to add more fiber and nutrition to your meal.
11. Nut butter with fruits
Nut butters contain protein and healthy fats. You can pick a nut butter of your choice and pair it with fruits like apple, banana, or berries. Try adding a dash of cinnamon to it for more flavor. Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant that may help reduce cholesterol levels; it may also help improve blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Why you might be hungry late at night
- Irregular mealtimes: Not having a fixed eating schedule or eating infrequently during the day with long gaps in between meals can result in hunger pangs at night. “If you haven’t had a proper meal or a balanced snack for more than three hours and you are hungry, you should eat no matter what time it is, to help maintain a steady blood sugar level,” says Kaidanian.
- Irregular bedtime: If some nights you are up much later than others, it can throw off your body clock and result in hunger at unusual times, like the middle of the night, according to Kaidanian.
- Nutritionally inadequate dinner: Kaidanian says meals without much protein or fiber that are heavy on refined carbs, such as rice and white pasta, are nutritionally inadequate and can cause a spike in your blood sugar followed by a crash afterward, resulting in cravings for more food. According to a 2016 study, these types of meals can also make it harder for you to fall asleep and make your sleep less restful.
- Mindless eating: “If late-night snacking is not a result of actual hunger and becomes a mindless activity, coupled with binge-watching television for instance, it can be a recipe for disaster that can result in weight gain and disordered eating patterns that affect your appetite into the next day,” says Kaidanian.
Tips for eating healthy at night
If you are eating a snack late at night, here are some dos and don’ts:
- Replace refined carbs with complex carbs: Kaidanian recommends skipping refined carbs such as crackers, chips, pretzels, and white bread, and opting for fiber-rich complex carbs, like vegetables and whole grains, instead. These foods are more nutritious than refined carbs and may promote better sleep.
- Add proteins or healthy fats: Kaidanian recommends pairing your complex carbs with either protein or healthy fats like nuts or peanut butter. These foods take longer to digest and keep you full for longer; they may also help with blood sugar control if you have diabetes.
- Pick whole foods: Kaidanian recommends skipping processed foods, since they have additives like salt, sugar, fats, and chemicals. Instead, she says to opt for whole foods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, that are as close to their natural state as possible.
- Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can make it harder for you to fall asleep, so it’s recommended that you avoid it six hours before bedtime. While coffee is an obvious source of caffeine, Kaidanian says other common culprits include soda, black teas, green teas, dark chocolate, and some types of energy and protein bars.
Maintaining a regular bedtime and consistent meal timings can help prevent late-night hunger pangs; however, if you haven’t eaten something in a few hours and are hungry, you should eat a healthy snack. Avoid eating mindlessly if you’re not actually hungry.
“The food you choose to eat late at night, if you do that, should still be portion-controlled and nutrient-dense, but not necessarily calorie-dense,” says Kaidanian. She recommends opting for fiber-rich foods with either protein or healthy fats.
Processed foods and refined carbs should be avoided, since they don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Caffeine in any form is also not a good idea, since it can make it harder for you to sleep.
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