13 Foods Nutritionists Never Eat Late at Night
If you can't get through late-night TV without munching on something, you should definitely avoid these health-wrecking, weight-adding choices.
We all remember a youthful night or two (or ten) fueled by energy drinks, pizza, and cookies. But it wasn’t good for us then, and it’s even worse now. Increasingly, research indicates that when you eat can be as important as what—and if you make bad food choices late at night, you can do even more damage to your health and waistline. We surveyed registered dietitians across the country to find out what they never, ever eat before turning in.
“Sleep is so important to our overall wellness, so I definitely try to avoid habits that will interfere with quality sleep,” says Caroline West Passerrello, RD, owner of Caroline West, LLC. “To that end, I rarely eat fried foods and never eat them a few hours before bed. The high fat content will keep your body focused more on digestion than sleep, and it may also lead to heartburn or reflux if you are prone to either.”
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Sure, a glass of wine will mellow you out—it is a depressant. But booze has been shown to decrease rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and that interferes with your sleep quality so that you wake up feeling less rested, warns Libby Mills, RD, a culinary nutrition consultant in Philadelphia. Additionally, research has linked binge drinking with insomnia.
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It’s zero calories and soothing—what’s not to love? But black, green, and white teas—as well as chai—all contain caffeine. Even if you stick to an herbal tea like chamomile, you have to make sure not to add sweeteners—they contribute to cavities—or lemon, which has diuretic properties. “A brew of herb water and a diuretic—no matter how slight—adds up to an undesirable journey to the bathroom sometime in the night,” says Mills.
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It’s the classic movie-watching snack, but even when you hold the extra butter, there’s a good reason to savour this whole-grain snack earlier in the day: salt. “Before bed, I don’t eat anything too salty because it will make me thirsty in the night,” says Debbie Petitpain, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Salted nuts and MSG-laden food can have a similar effect.
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Ice cream is full of fat, which can trigger indigestion and reflux, but that’s not why nutritionist Petitpain resists this tempting dairy treat. “I avoid foods that I’m likely to overeat so I don’t go to bed overfull,” she says. Cottage cheese may not be a real substitute for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but recent research from Florida State University found that scarfing 30 grams (a little more than one ounce) of cottage cheese 30 minutes before bed may benefit your metabolism and overall health.
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These are the trifecta of greasy, fatty, and salty—things that increase your odds of heartburn and getting up in the night for a drink. They’re also tougher for your body to digest, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of betterthandieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
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In numerous studies—here’s one example—researchers have found that the smell of peppermint boosts alertness by activating key areas of the brain. Eating a peppermint at night, or even brushing your teeth with peppermint toothpaste, will be waking you up when you need to be slowing down. Also, mints frequently have sugar in them, says Taub-Dix. If you want to hit the pillow with fresh breath, brush your teeth with a non-minty toothpaste.
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It’s cozy and comforting, and practically identical to a warm glass of milk—right? Milk delivers tryptophan which boosts relaxing neurotransmitters like serotonin, helping you wind down for the day. But people tend to forget that chocolate contains caffeine, and that can fire you up, says Angel Planells, RD.
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For some reason, Buffalo wings just taste better at 11 p.m. The issue is that spicy foods are a top cause of GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease—a chronic condition that hits one in five. Laying down soon after eating very spicy dishes or other GERD triggers such as fatty or greasy foods can make your symptoms worse, says Planells.
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There’s nothing like a late-night pizza delivery, but it’s just another greasy, high-fat food with the potential to bog down your digestive system and trigger heartburn. “The goal is to feel relaxed prior to bed, and you may struggle to get to sleep if your body is trying to digest a very complex meal,” says Planells.
Try these daily habits for better sleep tonight.
It’s oh-so-convenient, and carby goodness at your fingertips is hard to resist. But cereal is notoriously sweet—according to one report, 92 per cent contained added sugar, and the average cold breakfast cereal marketed to adults was 18 per cent sugar by weight. Along with all the other reasons it’s bad for your health, all that sugar will spike your blood glucose and boost your energy—something you don’t want happening right before bed. And decreased calorie needs at night means that blood sugar will be converted to fat.
You should also cut down on these other energy-boosting foods in the p.m.
You’ve probably heard about tryptophan, the amino acid famously found in turkey that induces post-meal sleepiness. Well, it’s actually in all proteins, and that might make steak sound like an ideal evening snack. Unfortunately, research indicates that too much protein can reduce the amount of tryptophan your brain has access to, which in turn can limit the production of the calming hormone serotonin. In other words, says Taub-Dix, “protein is not as good at rocking you to sleep as carbs, or a combination of protein and carbs, are.”
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Fizzy drinks keep you full on zero calories, but all those bubbles can contribute to indigestion and keep you tossing and turning, warns Leah Kaufman, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist. The fizz can also be hard on your tooth enamel. Stick with regular water—but not too much—before bedtime.
Next, check out the best vitamins for sleep.