[Editor’s note: This story published on Jan. 17, 2019, in our print edition but was delayed in being posted online due to technical issues.]
Calorie-conscious individuals may wonder if eating at night or after a certain time can derail their diets and fitness regimens. The jury is still out on whether eating at night can pack on the pounds or not, with various health recommendations contradicting one another. However, if one does choose to snack at night, there may be a smart way to do so.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Weight Control Information Network says that a calorie is a calorie no matter when it is consumed. That means it doesn’t matter if calories are consumed in the morning, afternoon or evening. It is how many are consumed and the amount of physical activity individuals perform that will affect their weights.
Conversely, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they’re not sure if a calorie is a calorie no matter when it is consumed. Their research and data from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders indicates that when food is consumed late at night the body is more likely to store those calories as fat and gain weight rather than burn it off as energy. Certain animal studies show that food is processed differently depending on the time of day it was consumed.
But what is a person to do when hunger pangs hit at night and one fears that their rumbling stomach may interrupt their sleep? According to the nutrition and fitness experts at MyFitnessPal, powered by Under Armour, stick to a snack that is between 100 and 200 calories.
Choose a food that is high in protein, fiber or healthy fats, which will be more likely to keep a person satiated throughout the night. Apples and peanut butter, string cheese and fruit, or whole grain crackers and Greek yogurt can be healthy, satisfying nighttime snacks.
Avoid sugary, calorie-dense foods, which may be hard to digest and can compromise sleep quality.
More studies may be necessary to determine the relationship between body weight and snacking at night. In the meantime, nighttime snackers should choose healthy foods when reaching for a late night bite to eat.