Popcorn, cookies and chips – do you reach for one of these snacks to satisfy a nighttime craving? Many people snack at night while working late or unwinding from the day.
“It’s ok to eat at night, but skip foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. Instead, choose healthy snacks and eat mindfully to avoid gaining weight or interfering with your sleep,” says Allegra Picano, RDN, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health.
What Are the Best Nighttime Snacks?
“Research shows a link between nighttime eating and weight gain,” says Picano. “That’s why it’s important to make healthy choices and enjoy snacks that don’t significantly add to your overall calorie count for the day.” She suggests choosing snacks under 200 or 300 calories.
Healthy nighttime snack options include:
- Nutrient-rich foods. Wash and cut up fresh fruits and vegetables so they’re easily available when you feel hungry at night. Nuts and seeds are also packed with nutrients and satisfy hunger.
- Foods to help you sleep. Cherries, eggs, almonds and pistachios are all sources of melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.
- Sugar-free, decaffeinated beverages. Dehydration can increase your hunger. Try drinking water or sugar-free, decaffeinated beverages to satisfy your thirst before reaching for a snack.
Some foods can interfere with your digestion and sleep. Picano recommends avoiding:
- Alcohol. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it interferes with your ability to stay asleep. Alcohol can also increase your appetite, making it harder to resist indulging in extra calories before you go to sleep.
- Caffeine. Chocolate, coffee and some teas contain caffeine, which can keep you up at night. Choose an herbal tea for a nighttime treat instead.
- Spicy, greasy or acidic foods. These foods can interfere with digestion, especially if you experience acid reflux. They can also make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Skip snacks high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Fatigue can increase your hunger and cravings for processed foods. Stick with healthier snacks to keep your weight on track.
Strategies For Mindful Nighttime Eating
Sometimes you can’t avoid eating at night. If you’re heading to work when others are heading to bed, you need to eat a healthy diet to accommodate your night shift schedule . For people who work remotely, a day job can easily spill into nighttime hours.
If you are eating at night, practicing mindful eating can help you keep your diet on track. Keep these strategies in mind for late-night snacking:
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off your television, phone and computer. Eat slowly and take time to enjoy your food.
- Keep a food diary. Track your calories throughout the day to avoid overindulging at night. It’s generally recommended to eat about 2,000 calories per day, but calorie requirements vary with body type, current health and activity level. Check with your doctor or dietitian to identify a calorie target to help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Listen to your body. Are you hungry or heading to the kitchen to overcome boredom or manage stress? Picano recommends drinking some water and waiting for 20 minutes to see if you still need a snack. If you’re still hungry, reach for a healthy option.
- Limit your portions. After eating a snack, Picano recommends waiting for up to 20 minutes before heading back for a second serving. This extra time allows your brain to recognize whether you’re still hungry.
When To Seek Help For A Nighttime Eating Habit
Occasional nighttime snacking is ok. But if you find yourself eating late at night several nights per week, it may be time to get help. Extra calories at night can lead to weight gain, increasing your risk for diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and certain cancers.
A dietitian can help you evaluate your diet and create a plan to ensure you get adequate nutrition throughout the day. “If you’re waiting until the afternoon to eat your first meal of the day, you’re more likely to continue eating throughout the afternoon and evening. Steady nutrition throughout the day will give you the energy you need and reduce your nighttime hunger,” says Picano.
Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips.
Allegra Picano is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.