June 30, 2021

Late-Night Snacks That Wreck Your Diet (and Sleep)

These foods sabotage weight loss and rob you of rest

Person eats potato chips while watching television in a dark room

You’re hungry. Dinner’s in the past and sleep is just ahead. What do you do?

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Making the wrong late-night snack choices can add to your weight and subtract from your sleep, and no one wants all that serious trouble to come from a momentary lapse, or two, in hunger weakness.

“It works both ways. A healthy diet improves the quality and duration of your sleep. And adequate sleep improves the quality of your diet by curbing hunger hormones,” explains registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

Here, our dietitians list go through the types of snacks to avoid when you’re looking at options late in the day.

1. Snacks that address boredom vs. hunger.

“Having ‘something to do’ while you watch TV is not a good reason for eating,” says Zumpano. “You’re only addressing your boredom.”

“Ideally, to maintain your waistline, it’s best to eat all your meals before 6 p.m.,” she notes.

If you’re not truly hungry, “a late-night snack is a waste of fuel at the end of the day,” she says.

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2. Snacks that are loaded with carbs.

One of the worst offenders is cereal and milk. That’s because it’s hard to control how much you eat.

“Cereal is loaded with carbs, especially if sweetened — and let’s be honest, it typically is,” she says. Add 1 cup of any type of cow’s milk, and you get 8 grams of protein — plus 12 grams of carbohydrate. “Using whole milk also gives you extra fat calories that you certainly don’t need at the end of the day,” she notes.

If you must have cereal, look for a brand that’s very low in sugar and high in fiber, and measure out 1 cup, she suggests. Then pair it with an unsweetened milk alternative such as almond, soy, flax, hemp or coconut milk.

3. Salty snacks that are fatty and starchy.

Limiting your night-time calorie intake is good for the waistline. But that’s hard to do with easy-to-binge-on salty snacks like potato chips and dip or tortilla chips and queso.

“These foods are not nutrient-dense. They’re calorie-dense — every little bite packs a ton of them,” notes Zumpano.

What’s worse, she finds that salty snacks don’t satisfy her cravings. “Instead, they trigger my sweet tooth, so that I end up eating another (sweeter) snack!”

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4. Snacks that keep you up at night.

“Late-night snacks should focus on foods that calm your body and prepare you for sleep,” says Zumpano.

“Steer clear of anything sugary or containing caffeine or alcohol,” she advises. It will stimulate your body. “Cookies, candy bars and anything high in refined sugar will reduce your serotonin levels, making it harder for you to fall asleep,” she notes.

Caffeine and alcohol disrupt sleep patterns, making it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep and enjoy the deeper stages of sleep.

Remember these tips the next time late-night cravings hit. You’ll appreciate making healthier choices when you hit the pillow — and the scale.

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