There are many reasons people snack after dinner. It could be stress, boredom, physical hunger, or cravings. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about whether or not you should snack after dinner. And if after-dinner snacking is okay, what are the best snacks to eat?
Late-night snacks can undermine your health goals, but going to sleep hungry isn’t ideal, either. Healthy late-night snacks won’t slow down your metabolism or tank your fitness goals. It’s not that you have a snack after dinner that is the issue, it’s what you snack on that makes a difference.
Late-Night Snacking: The Good and the Bad
Some people think that snacking after dinner, or later than 8 pm, isn’t healthy, while others say the total amount of calories consumed is more important than when they are consumed. However, according to research, both when you eat and how much you eat combined with the quality of the food you eat make a difference in whether or not late-night snacks have a positive or negative effect on your health.
Late-Night Snacking Habits That Can Lead to Weight Gain
Eating after 8 pm does not have to lead to weight gain if it is done right. But some late-night snacking habits can lead to weight gain. Try to avoid the following:
Going to sleep on a full stomach – this can lead to disrupted sleep, which can affect your waistline by causing your body to hang on to belly fat. Eat dinner a few hours before you go to bed. If you feel hungry, keep your bedtime snack under 200 calories.
Eating the wrong thing – what you eat is just as important as when you eat. Avoid heavy, greasy food if you want to get better sleep and keep your weight in check. Instead, a small snack consisting of protein, fiber, and a few carbs can help keep you satisfied.
Going to bed hungry – many people think that going to bed hungry will help them burn more fat, but this isn’t the case. Going to bed hungry can cause your body to lose muscle, which then slows down your body’s ability to burn fat. A small snack will keep your metabolism going.
Not counting your snack – those late-night nibbles can quickly add up if you are not careful. Be sure to factor them into your overall daily food intake.
Starving during the day, binging at night – Saving your “cheats” for after dinner can lead to a cycle of junk food and heartache. Work on separating thoughts of late-night snacking from unhealthy foods and associating it with healthy ones.
By choosing snacks packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fat, you can go to bed satisfied. Below are some healthy late-night snacks and ones you should avoid.
Healthy and Nutritious Late-Night Snacks
Protein Shakes and Protein Bites
A healthy protein snack after 8 pm can help you build muscle, reduce late-night hunger, lose weight, and improve recovery after exercise. High-protein drinks with Greek yogurt are deliciously healthy late-night snacks that also help promote muscle growth and improve post-exercise recovery. It can also promote weight loss by boosting your metabolism. Carbohydrates restore glycogen, and protein repairs muscle, so they work together. This ideal combination of macronutrients is more satisfying as well.
Another great choice to eat at night to increase muscle mass and control weight is high protein bites. They are a great way to curb hunger at night in just a few bites. And their delicious flavor can help stave off cravings for something sweet. With no muss, no fuss, and no preparation, a high-protein drink or high-protein bites are quick, easy, and healthy late-night snacks.
If salty, crunchy cravings hit you after dinner, try popcorn instead of chips or pretzels. This high-fiber snack can keep you satisfied until morning. Be careful what you flavor it with, and avoid large amounts of salt and butter. Try a drizzle of olive oil and some herbs. Also, even though it is healthy, mind your portions. Purchase single-serving bags or put a portion in a bowl to keep track of calories. When eating straight out of the bag, it’s easy to misjudge how much you are consuming.
Nuts are also easy and healthy late-night snacks that give you a little crunch. Almonds and walnuts contain melatonin, which can help you sleep better. They also contain magnesium, which can help calm nerve activity. Another good option is pistachios, which contain melatonin, fiber, and protein. The combination of protein and fiber keeps you fuller longer.
Although nuts provide healthy fats, they are still fats to be aware of in your portions. Choosing pistachios in the shell is an excellent way to keep tabs on how many you are eating. Also, choose lightly or unsalted to keep sodium levels low.
Grab a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick for a quick and easy snack. As we’ve mentioned, protein is a key factor in any late-night snack because it helps you feel full. If you want something a little more substantial, add a few whole-grain crackers for fiber and some apple slices for a bit of sweetness.
Hummus and Veggies
A tablespoon or two of hummus and some veggies, such as carrots, celery, or cucumbers, give you protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In addition, hummus helps fight inflammation, promotes healthy digestion, and may help control blood sugar levels.
Banana and Peanut Butter
Packed with potassium and magnesium, bananas are great muscle relaxers. Combined with peanut butter, they offer protein, carbs, and fiber for a filling late-night snack that will also help you sleep. If you prefer, spread some peanut butter on some apple slices to help satisfy your sweet tooth.
Lettuce Turkey Wrap
A couple of slices of turkey in a lettuce wrap is a light, low-carb, protein-packed snack that is quick and easy to make. Choose lettuce with large, pliable leaves that hold the turkey without falling apart.
Peanut Butter and Whole-Grain Cracker
Whole-grain crackers offer fiber, which helps regulate the rise of blood sugar. Peanut provides healthy fat and protein, making this a great pairing for an after 8 pm snack. Not only will you stay satisfied until morning, but peanut butter also raises serotonin levels, a hormone that can help you relax.
Worst Late-Night Snacks to Have
Sorry pizza lovers (a.k.a. practically everyone), but pizza is hands-down the worst late-night snack to have. It’s oh, so tempting to grab that piece in the fridge calling your name. What makes it delicious – cheese, toppings, crust – means it may contribute to weight gain when eaten as a late-night snack.
Your body digests fat slowly, which can cause reflux, and the crust is high in refined carbs, which affects the healthy metabolism of blood sugar.
Chips, pretzels, and other high-salt food have very few nutrients, and more importantly, no protein and no fiber. They have mainly refined carbs, and the salt can cause dehydration, water retention, and fatigue. These three factors can affect sleep, and if repeated often, can lead to chronic sleep issues.
Candy and Sweets
It’s not unusual to crave sweets after dinner. This can happen if your meals aren’t balanced, so your body craves sugar as a quick source of energy. But ice cream, chocolate, cookies, and other sugary foods are the late-night snack you should stay away from. Sweets have very little nutritional value, so they are pure extra calories that you don’t need.
Fat-filled food is harder and takes longer for your body to digest. They can also cause uncomfortable bloating. Avoid fatty food after dinner and opt for a healthy, high-protein snack that will help keep your metabolism working without causing bloating or weight gain.
Eating late-night healthy snacks won’t tank your health and fitness goals if your choose ones with a balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats and avoid sugary or greasy food. Make sure you include your snacks in your daily carb or calorie limit to ensure they don’t keep you from reaching your goals. A high-protein drink or high-protein bites are quick and easy ways to keep you on track.