The other night I received an email from a friend asking me for suggestions for the best late-night snack. Funny that I read it as I was eating a late-night snack! There is a common misconception that late-night snacking is “bad for you” and that somehow after a certain hour our body treats those calories different than other times of the day. There is also the misconception that certain foods are bad to snack on at night versus other times during the day. It is true that some studies have shown a link or an association between late-night eating and weight gain but upon further investigation the time of day was not the cause of the weight gain rather it was the overconsumption of calories. Studies have consistently shown that late-night eating does not actually cause weight gain if you stay within your body's daily caloric needs. The fact is that your body will store any extra calories as fat if you take in more calories than you burn in a day, regardless of the time of day in which you consume those excess calories.
So if you find yourself wanting a snack at night, think about why. If it is because of true physical hunger—discomfort, pain, or weakness caused by your body’s need to eat food for energy or fuel—then by all means have a small snack. But if you are eating because of psychological hunger—the desire to eat for non-physical reasons often triggered by boredom, anxiety, habit, loneliness, the sight and smell of food, or stress—then you might just want to hold back. If you find that you are ravenous at night it could mean that you are restricting your calories too severely during the day and that could trigger binge eating and overconsumption of calories. Try spreading your calories out better during the day so that you don’t feel so hungry at night and risk reaching for quick, high calorie foods that will lead to excess calories.
So my answer to my friend’s question was this—there is no “one” perfect or appropriate late-night snack. If you are staying within your calorie budget then there are many options that you can choose.
Keep these tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in mind:
What is your go-to night-time snack?