Is It Really That Bad to Eat Carbs at Night? Here’s What 2 Dietitians Have to Say
Navigating the world of weight loss advice is no freaking joke. Everywhere you look, there is someone trying to sell you on the latest wrap, pill, diet fad, or shake. So, you might want to start with easy, widespread advice you’ve heard through the years: drink lots of water, get cardio at least a few times a week, and don’t eat carbs at night, right? Right? After talking to a few registered dieticians, we’re not so sure.
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Before getting into the carbs or no carbs discussion, you might want to know if eating anything at night could hinder weight loss or management. “I don’t see eating at night as posing a challenge for weight management,” said Tracey Grant, RDN, CWHC, of Whole Daily Life.”A well-composed evening snack won’t affect your progress any differently in the evening than it would elsewhere in your day.”
Anna Hartman, RDN, of Food Smarts Nutrition, agreed. “For the vast majority of people, the time on the clock when we eat doesn’t have a huge impact on how we digest and utilize nutrients, or how our bodies regulate weight.” There are certain groups of people, namely competitive bodybuilders and professional athletes, whose performance-related goals can benefit from nutrient timing, but us normal people are going to see a bigger impact from the type of foods we eat than the timing of our meals and snacks.
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Should you stay away from carbs at night if you do choose to indulge in a post-dinner snack? Grant recommended a balance, including carbs, protein, and fat. “By including some of each macronutrient, you will have a more balanced blood sugar response (as opposed to a blood sugar spike), which translates to more effective use of that energy and better sleep. A blood sugar spike tells the body to store energy (which could end up being stored as fat if not used) to help bring blood sugar down, and these spikes can also contribute to internal inflammation.”
Both experts advised that eating whole, minimally-processed foods, as opposed to refined foods like crackers, cookies, and candy, is the way to go. When we choose foods that are minimally processed and higher in fiber like fruits, veggies, whole grains (pro tip: whole grains have actually been shown to promote a good night’s sleep), and legumes, the food is digested and absorbed more slowly – and we get more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
“Our bodies do utilize carbohydrates more efficiently when we are more active (i.e., not when we are preparing for sleep). Knowing this, a large influx of carbs late at night, right before sleep, may not be used as efficiently as a high-carb meal consumed earlier in the day when we are active (after exercise, for example),” Hartman said. A better choice would be a low- to moderate-carbohydrate meal or snack made up of high-quality, nutrient dense foods.
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Some of Grant’s favorite evening snacks include “a small banana with a handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg and a handful of berries, half of a sweet potato with cinnamon and nut butter, or a mug of bone broth blended with ghee and collagen.”
Hartman’s suggestions include the following:
1/2 a 100 percent whole wheat pita pocket with two tablespoons of hummus and a few baby carrots
Slice of whole grain toast with one tablespoon of peanut butter
Small sliced apple and 1/4 cup almonds
4 oz. of vanilla Greek yogurt topped with 1/4 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese, quark, or skyr with a sliced fresh peach
1/2 cup protein-fortified, plant-based milk with 2/3 cup whole-grain cereal
1/2 turkey sandwich on toasted whole-grain bread with 1/4 avocado
“If you find yourself snacking at night out of boredom, stress, or anything other than hunger, that is an opportunity for change. This nighttime grazing can add up to a lot of extra food intake over time, which can negatively impact blood sugar and hormone levels, and can contribute to unexpected shifts in body weight,” Hartman said. If you truly are hungry, “Find a snack that is both enjoyable and nourishing. Pay attention to how various foods make you feel when you choose to eat them at night. Notice which ones are satisfying you, which ones settle well in your stomach, and which ones promote a good night’s sleep,” she added.
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