How does eating late at night affect your health?

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From time to time, you might experience the indulgence of a late evening kitchen raid, indulging in treats after dark and packing in unnecessary night-time calories – even if you’re not hungry. But is it actually bad for your health?

There’s currently a lot of speculation around eating late in the evening and its effect on the body. Will eating at night make you gain weight? Does it put weight on your stomach? What should you do if you always get home late? In this article, we look at the problem with eating at night and also give you some healthy late night snacks and tips to limit those midnight trips to the fridge.

What is late?

First of all, before we determine whether it’s bad to eat late at night, we’ve got to figure out: what is late? Late is usually within 3 hours of you going to sleep. So, if you work nights and usually sleep from 7am-3pm your “late” would be 4-7am. At the end of the day, your body is going to metabolise whatever you put into it, and if you aren’t active enough to use up the energy you absorb from it, then it will be stored as fat.

Timing is everything

Recent medical studies have shown that eating between the hours of 12pm-11pm resulted in higher levels of blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol, than eating between the hours of 8am-7pm. So, if your goal is to reduce your body fat or your cholesterol, it may be beneficial to try curbing your late night eating habits.

And just this week, a report into late night eating habits shows that eating before 9pm cuts prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women by up to 18%. It even says that late night eating alters your blood sugar levels.

In a 2013 study, those who ate their main meal after 3pm lost less weight during a 20-week weight loss programme than the participants who ate their main meal before 3pm. Even though the food they ate was identical; they also slept and exercised the same amount. The people who ate later couldn’t metabolise (burn off) carbs very well in comparison to eating earlier – and their glucose tolerance went down, which can cause type 2 diabetes. So, these studies all seem to indicate that timing is crucially important to the success of weight loss.

woman sitting next to fridge late at night eating a sweet snack

What if I have to eat late at night?

For some, avoiding food after a certain time is impossible whether that’s due to work or other commitments you may have. If this sounds like you, there are still some strategies you can take to manage your weight and continue leading a healthy lifestyle.

5 tips for late night eating

  1. Keep the GI low

    If you’re avoiding fat gain, then staying away from carbohydrates and high GI foods before bed may be very beneficial to you. This will help to avoid large increases in blood sugar levels, giving the body less chance to store that excess blood sugar as fat. For a healthy evening snack idea, nibble on some wholegrain crackers. If you’re in need of a meal, a casserole with lots of vegetables is low-carb and filling.

  2. Fat and protein: the perfect combo?

    If you’re looking to gain some muscle, small intakes of fat and protein sources late on may help you keep hold of as much of your lean mass as possible. Proteins and fats cause a much smaller increase in blood glucose and therefore insulin resistance. This makes you less likely to store fat. Proteins also help to repair and grow lean muscle mass. Why not try a handful of macadamia nuts with Greek (full-fat) yoghurt?

  3. Full of fibre

    Adding some fibre-rich snacks into your diet will not only keep you satisfied and fuller, it’ll also improve your digestion to help you sleep better. To help you achieve the daily recommended 30g of fibre, the ideal healthy late night treat would be kale crisps! Make your own by tearing the leaves and baking in the oven on a low heat until crisped up. If you’ve not got time for homemade snacks, hummus would be a good fibrous alternative.

  4. Am I really hungry?

    If you’ve already had a balanced evening dinner, you might not actually need any more food. Your hunger might be something else in disguise. Ask yourself: am I hungry? Tired? Bored? Stressed? You might even just be thirsty! If this is the case, take a gulp of some H2O or how about a soothing mug of camomile tea to send you off to dream land?

  5. Sleepy snacks

    Before bed, try some foods containing tryptophan which release our mood stabilising hormone called serotonin. It’ll make you feel calmer and more ready for sleep. For an evening meal, bake some sleep-promoting salmon and serve with roasted vegetables. If you want a simple snack, top some wholegrain toast with some tinned or flaked salmon.

Genetics and eating habits

DNA Metabolic Testing can give you more of an idea about how your body breaks down food – whether your metabolism’s fast or slow and how this impacts what and when you eat. If you eat the right food for you, you’ll end up less sluggish and it’ll have a better effect on your sleeping patterns.

Written by
Evergreen Life

Article updated:
July 19, 2018
Reviewed by:
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