Picture this: it’s been a long, exhausting day and you’re back home feeling wiped out. Now all you want to do is grab a container of your favorite sweet or savory treat (or both), throw yourself on the sofa, turn Netflix on and switch your brain off. As you settle in, that voice in your head whispers, “This tastes so good, it’s not the healthiest, but I can’t be bothered.”
We know that sometimes the mindless eating route is just the easiest when you barely have the energy to do anything but zone out, but think of your future self. Sluggish, tired, bloated, and guilty — is it really worth it?
Be kind to your current and future and arm yourself with healthy late night snacks and strategies that will tame the hungry beast within, and not sabotage the new healthy habits you’re working on.
Why you crave midnight delights
If you like to graze, nibble or snack at night, you’re not alone. There are many reasons why you nosh at night. For some, it’s your body’s natural biological response to a physiological lack; for others, it may be feelings of anxiety, stress, or boredom.
You’re not eating enough
Grab a piece of paper, your favorite journal or jot down in your smartphone what you ate today. No judgments here, see this as an exercise to gain a deeper understanding of your snack habits and emotional/physical triggers. Did you skip a meal? Were your meals balanced? Did you drink enough water?
If you don’t give your body what it needs during the day, it’ll be sure to let you know. Ending the day not having eaten enough or not the right stuff means you’ll most likely overeat ar night. Refined and processed foods will leave your blood sugar swingin’ and your hunger bells a ringin’.
Stressed is a palindrome, meaning you can spell it backward. Give it a try — when reading it backward, it spells out desserts! Coincidence? We think not! When you’re stressed, you’ll often crave sweets as sugar drastically increases serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter in your brain. Stress also raises cortisol levels, the hormone that makes us crave simple carbohydrates like sugar. Eating when stressed can be a temporary relief, but it’s precisely that — temporary.
You have night eating syndrome
Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder typically characterized by a lack of eating in the morning and overeating at night or in the middle of the night. Its defined by eating at least 25% of your daily calories after dinner and waking at night to eat, at least three times per week. If you think you may have night eating syndrome, be sure to speak to your doctor or therapist.
The dangers of noshing at night
Night eating has been shown to increase risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol well as symptoms conditions such as anxiety and depression. It has an impact on both physical and mental health. Here’s why…
Disrupting your circadian rhythm
Our bodies run off of a circadian rhythm, meaning we’re naturally programmed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Getting up in the middle of the night for any reason disrupts this sleep-wake cycle. Eating at night also delays the onset of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy, and prevents our body temperature from cooling.
Our blood sugar naturally increases after eating and is fuel for our brain and cells. When we eat right before bed, our bodies will store glucose instead of using it. High blood sugar over time may lead to diabetes and weight gain.
The parasympathetic system controls our digestion and any automatic body process. This naturally slows down when we sleep. Eating at night is difficult on our digestion because the food sits in our stomach for longer, leading to heartburn, fermentation, and putrefaction.
Foods to focus on and avoid at night
We understand that sometimes eating late at night is unavoidable, especially when you work late or are out socializing with friends. If you’re physically hungry, it’s important to listen to your body. Finding easily digestible foods that keep blood sugar steady is the key.
Focus on easily digestible carbohydrates which are least likely to interfere with sleep. Examples are easy to eat grains (quinoa or brown rice) or cooked starchy vegetables (potato or squash). Pairing these with lean protein such as tofu, fish, or egg can helps steady blood sugar. The bonus here is that many protein foods are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which enables you to feel sleepy. Aim for small portions, so you have time to digest.
Avoid raw vegetables or high fiber foods such as beans. They cause gas and bloating, which can keep both you up at night. High-fat foods (fried foods, coconut, nuts, oils) are slower to digest so avoid these right before bed. Caffeine and alcohol make it difficult to transition into deep sleep (REM). Avoid alcohol (wine, beer, spirits) and caffeine (coffee, non-herbal teas, and chocolate) a few hours before bedtime.
5 healthy late night snack recipes
If you have to nibble at night, then let’s give you some solid snacks to satiate that late-night appetite and keep you healthy while you’re at it!
Goat Cheese Plum Sandwich
Goat cheese paired with plum or any fruit of your choice will hit both your savory and sweet tooth. This recipe calls for arugula but feel free to experiment and try mint or basil instead. Goat cheese is easier on your digestion in comparison to cow’s milk cheese as it contains medium-chain triglycerides.
Quick Basil Fish
If you’re going to eat before bed, then whitefish is a superb lean protein choice to have. It’s easy to digest while providing your body with omega 3, which supports brain health and produces serotonin, that happy neurotransmitter.
Microwave Sweet Potato with Greek Yogurt
Potatoes are wonderfully easy to digest simple carbs and perfectly paired with the protein-rich yogurt. All you need to do is chop up the sweet potato and put it in a microwave-safe bowl with a bit of water and heat on medium until cooked through. Are you lactose intolerant or have an allergy to dairy? Then try adding an unsweetened non-dairy alternative yogurt like almond or coconut instead.
Hard-Boiled Egg & Apple
This snack is super easy to make and even easier to eat. Eggs are considered the gold standard for protein, so grab one and twin it with a piece of fruit when the nighttime munchies pay a visit. Keep a batch of hard-boiled eggs on hand at all times — ideal as an emergency snack.
Almond Butter & Blackberry Crackers
Almonds are high in tryptophan, that amino acid that helps create serotonin and sleepiness. Choose ground almonds as it’s easier to digest. Enjoy these yummy crackers with a warm cup of herbal tea and you’ll sleep as sound as a baby.
Want even more healthy late night snacks tailored to your lifestyle, nutrition, and fitness needs? Then sign up to the 8fit Pro app and discover a smorgasbord of superb snacks and more!