Whether you’re up late tackling that pile of dishes in the sink or a work deadline, you might feel that familiar rumble in your stomach telling you that it’s time to eat. You’ve already had dinner, so all you need is a snack, but what’s the healthiest late-night snack that won’t keep you up all night?
Common dietary wisdom may tell you to avoid nighttime eating altogether. It’s true that making poor food choices at night can lead to weight gain and may impair your sleep, but you’re probably not going to get a good night’s sleep anyway if you’re distracted by feelings of hunger. Your best bet is to eat a snack that will satisfy you without creating digestion issues or keeping you up even later.
Foods and drinks to avoid in the evening include chocolate (especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine), added sugars, alcohol and too much liquid. Also, if you suffer from GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), you’ll also want to skip spicy and fried foods, and anything that contains peppermint, as it can irritate your esophagus. People with GERD should also avoid eating for two hours before going to bed.
In general, carbohydrates are a smart choice late at night. Carbs trigger the release of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps you feel calm and may be just what you need to easily fall asleep. But you want to choose a carb-based snack with little to no added sugar to avoid a spike in blood sugar just before bed.
Related: From beef jerky and popcorn to coconut chips, these foods will help you snack better for less money.
The mineral magnesium is another sleep-inducing superstar. Magnesium keeps our heart healthy and is involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, nuts, edamame, avocado and whole-grain bread.
Here are some healthy snack ideas for when those late-night munchies hit:
1. Homemade trail mix
A mixture of popcorn, nuts and dried fruit really hits the mark for a nutritious late-night snack. The carbs in the popcorn will help you relax and the magnesium-rich almonds will also help put you in a calm state. Naturally sweet raisins will satisfy your need for something sweet without any added sugar, plus they provide a serving of fruit. If you’re not sensitive to caffeine, feel free to toss in a small handful of chocolate chips.
Combine 1 cup unsalted popcorn, 1 ounce almonds and 1/4 cup raisins
This morning fave (make it with water or milk) is also great in the evening too. Oatmeal provides plenty of slow burning carbohydrates and the 4 grams of fiber per serving will help you feel full, putting those tummy rumbles to rest. Top your oats with half of a banana for an extra boost of potassium, which can be helpful if you suffer from leg cramps at night.
3. Avocado toast
This trendy snack is as perfect at 9 p.m. as it is at 9 a.m. Magnesium-rich avocado (36 milligrams in a half) is perfect on top of a slice of whole-grain toast, another source of the relaxing mineral.
4. Whole-grain cereal
A classic late-night munchy, breakfast cereal can be one of the healthiest late-night snacks — if you pick the right kind. Look for one that’s made with whole grains (whole wheat, rice or oats should top the ingredient list) and is low in added sugar. Pour it into a bowl (don’t snack mindlessly from the box), add milk and throw some walnuts on top for added magnesium.
Related: From dark chocolate to fruit leather, these healthy, budget-friendly snack foods will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Another breakfast special, smoothies don’t just get you going in the morning, they can also help you wind down at night. Just make sure you’re not going to wake anyone up with the sound of the blender! When you’re craving something sweet before bed, try this calming smoothie from my book, “Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen.” The kefir is loaded with probiotics, which may help trigger the release of serotonin, the hemp seeds deliver magnesium and the berries and peach provide vitamin C, which helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Makes 1 serving
In a blender, combine kefir, raspberries, hemp seeds, peach and ice. Blend until smooth. Serve in a glass and enjoy.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep — and remember, that stack of dishes can wait till tomorrow.