The dos and don’ts of late night snacking

Feeling peckish in the evening and wondering whether to give in to your cravings? Discover the dos and don’ts of late night snacking.

Who doesn’t love a late night snack sometimes? Maybe you’re watching a movie, or have come home late. Or perhaps you can’t sleep or just fancy raiding the fridge for a midnight snack. 

Whatever the reason, is eating late at night really a good idea? And is there a way you can snack healthily in the evening? Let’s find out what the experts from say. 

Should you snack late at night?

So should you give into any hunger pangs late at night? Eating more calories than your body needs at any time of the day isn’t a good idea as it can lead to weight gain. So if you have eaten your fill already, it’s probably not a good idea to consume more food. It’s also a sign that you aren’t really hungry; you could just be bored or in the habit of snacking at that time. 

Research from the 2020 European and International Conference on Obesity revealed that people who snack late at night eat 40% of their daily calories after 6 pm. And their snacks tend to be less healthy as they are higher in sugar and fat, and lower in fibre and protein. 

Another 2018 study published in the Journal of Obesity discovered that women who ate late in the evening had a greater chance of being overweight. Late night snacking can also impact your metabolic health. Research shows that eating as late as 10 pm can affect your glucose intolerance and reduce the breakdown of fat.

So tucking into late night snacks in general doesn’t seem like a wise idea as it can lead to weight gain and impact your metabolism. But is there a healthier way to sate any hunger pangs in the evening? Let’s look at some of the dos and don’ts of late night snacking.

Do choose snacks that are packed with protein, fibre and healthy fats

Whatever time of the day you eat, it’s always wise to opt for healthier snacks if you can. So if you are planning a midnight feast, opt for foods that are packed with protein, fibre and healthy fats.

Good foods to snack on in the evening include:

  • Cheese and crackers
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Greek yoghurt and fruit
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn 
  • Wholegrain toast

Why are these snacks good for you late at night? 

Cheese and wholemeal crackers provide a balance of protein and carbohydrates that help stabilise your blood sugar. The tryptophan in cheese combined with the carbohydrates in crackers also helps to boost your serotonin and melatonin levels, which make it easier to sleep. 

Eggs are also a good choice for a late evening meal. Not only are they rich in protein, but they are full of tryptophan too, which can help make you feel sleepy.

Nuts like walnuts and pistachio contain melatonin, a compound that supports healthy sleep, plus they are packed with fibre and protein which can help keep you fuller, so they make an ideal late night snack. 

Another healthy option is Greek yoghurt with kiwi fruit, cherries or berries. Greek yoghurt contains gut-friendly probiotics and protein which can help you to feel full for longer and stabilise your blood sugar, while cherries are rich in melatonin and berries are high in fibre. 

Kiwis, meanwhile, contain serotonin which can make you feel relaxed help you fall asleep more quickly.

Proper Good oatmeal also makes a filling, nutritious late night snack as oatmeal has a high soluble fibre and carb content, which means your body is able to slowly digest it.

If you fancy a salty hit, make yourself some popcorn. But don’t be tempted to lather it in butter or choose sweet or caramel popcorn. And for a quick, easy to make late night snack, wholegrain toast with a nut butter, avocado or banana topping will fill you up until morning. 

Don’t give into junk food cravings

So now you know what late night snacks to opt for, let’s look at some you really want to avoid – however tempting they may be! 

Foods to avoid snacking on in the evening include:

  • Pizza
  • Cereal
  • Crisps
  • Sweets
  • Spicy food

Why do these make such bad late night snacks? 

The acid from the tomato sauce and high amount of fat and carbohydrates in the pizza can lead you to wake up with stomach ache or reflux. It’s also a highly calorific ‘snack’ if you have already eaten. 

Most cereals contain high amounts of sugar which, again, can lead to weight gain. They can also cause a spike in your blood sugar and raise your insulin levels. The low levels of fibre can also lead you to wake up hungry, despite the amount of calories you have consumed.

If you do fancy a bowl of cereal try to opt for one with higher levels of fibre and protein, and low levels of sugar. Oatmeal porridge with fruit and/or nuts can help to fill you up ready for a good night’s sleep. 

Another sugary snack to avoid is sweets and chocolate, for obvious reasons! If you do have a sweet craving, opt for fruit or dark chocolate. 

It probably won’t surprise you to see crisps make the ‘don’t eat late at night’ list. They contain few nutrients while being high in salt, refined carbohydrates and (usually bad) fat. Crisps won’t fill you up or give you any goodness; they’ll just help you to pile on excess pounds. 

And finally, try to resist a late evening curry if you want a good night’s sleep. Eating spicy food can raise your heart rate, making it more difficult to get to sleep. You might also pay for your snack with acid reflux and stomach pains during the night. 

If you do need to snack at night, snack right

In general, it is best to avoid snacking at night if you can – especially if you have already eaten your evening meal. But there are times when you can’t avoid eating later in the evening. Maybe you’ve worked or been out late, or have hunger pangs that are stopping you from sleeping. 

If you do need or want to eat late at night, make sure you snack right. By choosing healthier late night snacks you’ll avoid piling on excess weight (as long as you stick to smaller portion sizes) and sleeping badly. And instead you’ll nourish your body and sleep better.