Why Late-Night Snacking Can Be Harmful to Your Heart Health

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We’ve all been in front of the fridge at 3 a.m., hungry and looking for snacks or something that we know is not good for us. But it turns out that late-night snacking can put you at risk for more than just putting on weight.

What does late-night snacking do to your body? Heart surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD answers a few questions on the topic.

Q.: Does it matter if I eat healthy food?

A.: Of course it does, but the main thing about late-night snacking is the timing. Your body has something called the circadian rhythm.  That is your body’s internal clock. Every one of us has one. Your internal clock wants you to be asleep at 3 a.m., not in front of the refrigerator.

If you eat during normal waking hours, your body metabolizes the food much more quickly and the fats, lipids and cholesterol in your blood are absorbed by your liver, muscles and your other tissues.

But let’s say you eat at 3 a.m. You get out of bed, you’re supposed to be asleep, you eat those cupcakes or ice cream. So what happens is the fats hang around longer in your blood than they’re supposed to — and that cannot be good for your heart, your kidneys and your other organs.

Q.: Why is it that we always want to snack on salty, sweet or rich foods?

A.: Some scientists think we evolved to eat these kinds of food because hundreds or thousands of years ago you never knew if there was going to be enough food or when your next meal was coming. Each time people ate, they wanted the greatest number of calories, and we still have a little bit of that inside of us. So at 3 a.m., who says, “Wow, I really want some celery?”

Q.: What should you do if you wake up and you’re hungry?

A.: Start with something small, something that’s not sugary or high-fat, eat a high-fiber snack bar. But really, the best thing is if you wake up and are thinking about heading to the kitchen, try to go back to sleep without eating. Getting up to eat will become a habit and it will be a habit you’ll pay for later in life.

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