Healthy Foods to Eat for a Late-Night Dinner
You’ve probably heard that eating after a certain time at night is terrible for your health. While it is true that metabolism slows down at night and eating right before bed could trigger acid reflux in some people, it is not the end of the world if you eat dinner past 6 p.m. provided you’re eating healthy foods.
Besides, if your work or life schedule only allows you to eat in the later part of the day, it’s better to go to bed fed than hungry. But exhaustion can make it feel harder to listen to your body’s hunger cues, which causes people to be prone to snacking and overeating in the evening.
The key is having a meal that will keep your stomach full but won’t mess with your sleep. To allow time for digestion, eating about three hours before bed is best.
So what should you eat if you find yourself hungry past the ideal dinner hours? While there’s not one “perfect meal,” registered dietitians share tips and meal ideas if you’re in need of a late-night meal:
1. Reduce fat and protein intake
Philadelphia-based dietitians Melissa Bailey, MS, RD, LDN, and Liz Smith, MPH, RD, CNSC say that the stomach digests fat the longest, which means that eating fatty foods late at night could lead to uncomfortable symptoms like reflux or bloating. It’s better to eat carbs and a little protein. Some meal examples include a piece of chicken and steamed veggies, scrambled eggs with a side of fruit, or a small salad with nuts and chickpeas.
2. Eat foods with tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid that makes us drowsy. Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City, states that food with tryptophan – eggs, walnuts, salmon, chicken, and turkey – may help improve your quality of sleep slightly.
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3. Easy-to-digest carbs
According to Lockwood, eating carbs releases serotonin – a chemical that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. You can make a “mini-meal” of easily digestible carbs, like quinoa or brown rice, with a small portion of lean protein, like fish or chicken. Or if you don’t feel like cooking at all, a piece of whole grain toast with nut butter and some cinnamon is a great option, she says.
4. Eat leafy green vegetables
Lockwood states that some sleep-related issues are linked to folic acid deficiency. To make sure you’re getting enough, have some broccoli, kale, spinach, romaine, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or Swiss chard.
5. Substantial snacks
Any food, even snacks, can be considered “dinner food.” Though a bowl of popcorn might be your favorite late-night snack, you’ll feel better if you consume a more nutritious alternative. Here are some healthier alternatives: oatmeal with walnuts, yogurt and granola, string cheese and crackers, pineapple and cottage cheese, or even a banana smoothie with milk.