A friend of mine once said: If we weren’t supposed to eat at night, then why does the refrigerator have a light? Joke aside, the scenario is pretty familiar: sometimes after an early dinner, late at night, you feel hungry again. Or you are simply watching something on TV and you crave a small snack. What then? Do you have that snack and feel guilty or get frustrated because you go to bed on an empty stomach? Of course, there are other reasons for having a night snack, like working late, working shifts, traveling, etc.
It is a common belief that late night snacks are not a good idea, especially if you are watching your weight. Before acting on impulse and heading for the kitchen, stop and think.
First of all, check your hydration levels, as very often we mistake thirst for hunger. Then you should see why do you need a snack: is there a real need, or is it just a way to unwind after a long hard day? Mindless eating in front of the TV or the computer is never a good idea and may be the culprit for those extra pounds.
If you still decide to have it anyway, you should pay attention to some things that could make the difference between a healthy snack or a “calorie bomb”: First of all, the number of calories. Remember, we are talking about a snack, not a meal, so the count should be somewhere in between 100 and 200 calories. The unburned energy is usually stored as fat, so it is best to ingest fewer calories at night. Another criterion is digest-ability. Choose easily digestible foods at night, because a bad digestion can affect the quality of you sleep and also ruin your morning appetite.
The good news is, healthy night snacks do exist, and they can also be very tasty. Too good to be true?
Here are some examples to prove my point:
Do you know what it feels like to win the lottery? I don’t know either, but I think it matches the feeling you have when you discover your favourite food/snack is healthy. A bowl of all-natural fat -free popcorn is low in calories and full of fiber and whole grains. To add flavour to your snack, use black pepper, garlic powder, or other seasonings you like, simply use your imagination.
A small handful of raw, unsalted almonds can also be a great snack to have after sunset. They are an important source of protein which will help you feeling full and due to their high magnesium levels they promote a good night’s rest.
This is another high-protein snack. Casein is a family of proteins found in dairy products. It congeals in your stomach and takes hours to digest, providing a slow release of protein thus keeping you feeling full longer. All that with approximately 120 calories. Add some fresh berries, or a sliced banana if you are craving something sweet.
You can replace cottage cheese with low-fat yogurt, mix it with fruits of your choice and there you have it, another nutritious, low-calorie night snack.
Speaking of fruits, cherries are a very good choice not only because they are so tasty but they are one of the few natural foods to contain melatonin, the chemical that helps control our body’s internal clock.
If you want something sweet and creamy, with no effort, why not choose a banana. These fruits are high in potassium and magnesium, substances which help your muscles relax, thus promoting a better sleep. They also contain carbohydrates, so you will feel fuller longer.
And if you are a big fan of ice-cream (I know I am ), frozen bananas can be a great, diet friendly alternative. They take an interesting texture when frozen, tricking us into thinking we are really indulging when we are not. All you need to do is to take a super ripe large banana, cut it into pieces and freeze. Once frozen for at least 2 hours, add it to a food processor and blend till you get the desired texture. You can use a little almond milk to thin it, if necessary. Enjoy.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, says an old proverb. You can choose to eat the apple in the evening, with a little almond or peanut butter. Apples have lots of fiber and a satisfying crunch. The protein in the butter also fills you up without feeling heavy in your stomach.
Cherries, bananas and other fruits like apples, oranges, can be the easy and the smart choice for a late snack. But it is better to stay away from overly juicy fruits because you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. I say that from experience.
Hummus and veggie sticks
3 tablespoons of hummus with carrots and/or celery sticks may be the alternative
when you want something crunchy. Hummus is a great source of protein, carrots and celery are packed with vitamins and fibers.
Avoid store bought hummus as it’s loaded with salt, plus it’s super easy to do it yourself.
Roasting chickpeas is an interesting alternative to making hummus. This approach lets you choose your own flavorings and the result is a crunchy and tasty snack. Sounds like a good alternative to potato chips.
Avocado is full of good fat and fiber, so you can eat a few fresh slices or some homemade guacamole with multi-grain crackers.
Eggs are high in protein, good fats and they’re low in calories -less than 80 for one hard-boiled egg – so enjoy one as a healthy late night snack.
Caprese salad bites
Caprese salad bites. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook. It is very simple and tasty too. The basic idea is to thread the salad ingredients onto a skewer. You could also use a shorter skewer if you wanted a smaller snack.
Caprese salad is a good option because it only has four main ingredients (mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil and basil).
After all, I think that paying attention to what you eat is a little bit more important than when you eat it. Eating at night shouldn’t become a habit, but if you are a little conscious about your choices, having a night snack now and then won’t ruin your sleep, or you diet/ waistline.