It is hard to fall asleep with an empty and growling stomach. However, middle of the night snacking, a condition called Night Eating Syndrome, may put you at higher risk for obesity and binge eating problems, according to a June 2007 article in the "International Journal of Obesity." Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy snacks to help curb your hunger before bed without packing on extra pounds. The key is selecting snacks that are low in calories and high in volume to leave you feeling full without pushing you over your daily calorie limit. In general, aim for snacks that are 100 to 200 calories or less.
Vegetables as Snacks
To get the greatest amount of food for the fewest number of calories, choose snacks that are high in water and fiber. Vegetables fall into this category. Eating a cup of raw carrots sticks, celery, bell peppers, snap peas, cucumbers, broccoli or zucchini provides between 25 and 50 calories. In addition to helping you feel full, vegetables also provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed to keep you healthy. If raw veggie sticks are too bland for you, try adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of a low- or reduced-calorie dip such as hummus or a fat-free salad dressing to boost flavor.
Fruits as Snacks
Fruits are another great late-night snack. Typically, they are low in calories and high in fiber. If you're craving something sweet, opt for a serving of fruit, because the natural sugar in fruit can help satisfy your sweet tooth. Consider eating a whole, raw fruit such as an apple, pear, orange, banana, or cherries, berries or grapes. These whole foods provide roughly 80 calories per cup. You could also dice a variety of fruits to make a mixed fruit salad. If you need a little more than plain fruit, try dipping sliced fruit in a small amount of low-fat yogurt or a nut butter. Be cautious, however, of your portion size with nut butters, as they provide about 90 calories per tablespoon.
Another way to curb evening hunger is to eat protein-rich foods. Like fiber, high-protein foods move more slowly through your digestive tract, keeping you feeling full longer. One good high-protein option is mixed nuts; it is important to be aware of your portion size, however, as one quarter of a cup provides roughly 180 calories. Low-fat dairy products such as yogurt or cottage cheese, also make a good snack. Choosing the low-fat varieties helps you limit calories from these foods. Eggs are another excellent source of protein. A hard-boiled egg gives you only 75 calories, but helps to fill an evening snack craving.
If you are in the mood for a crunch, try subbing chips or crackers for alternatives that contain fewer calories. Brown-rice cakes, made from puffed rice, contain only 35 calories per cake. Popcorn without butter provides 31 calories per-cup popped. Use garlic powder, black pepper or other low-calorie seasonings to give your popcorn more flavor. Another snack idea is to toast one half of a whole-wheat English muffin and top it with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter for only about 160 calories. These whole-grain snacks contain fiber to help you feel full.
Behavior Change to End Night Eating
If you find yourself wanting to snack continuously in the evening or you notice that you eat as many calories snacking as you would if you ate a meal, you'll want to make some changes to your routine. Try eating slightly more calories in your meals throughout the day and see if your evening hunger subsides. Also, think about going to sleep sooner. If you wait to go to sleep until you're hungry, you'll want to eat. If you make it to bed before your dinner has fully digested, however, you'll probably sleep contently. If you wake up hungry on a consistent basic and then snack in the middle of the night, see your health care provider for more assistance.
- International Journal of Obesity: Night Eating Syndrome and Nocturnal Snacking: Association Witj Obesity, Binge Eating and Psychological Distress
- Bowes and Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used; Jean A. T. Pennington and Judith Spungen Douglass
- Harvard School of Public Health: Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Snacks, Rice Cakes, Brown Rice, Plain
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Snacks, Popcorn, Air-Popped
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: English Muffins, Wheat, Toasted
- McKinley Health Center: Smart Snacks