Dieticians generally spurn late-night snacking because of possible weight gain, sleep disruption and other health concerns. But what if your schedule leaves you no choice? Are there certain foods or dietary hacks that won’t wreak havoc on your digestion, sleep or metabolism?
“Late-night eating isn’t bad at all if you choose the right foods,” says Collin Ruiz, MS, holistic nutritionist based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “It’s what you eat, rather than when you eat it.”
Ruiz’s nutritional guidance is rooted in plant-based protein and chrono nutrition, a diet targeting specific foods at specific times of the day based on the body’s natural biological rhythms. We asked her to shed some light on the best foods to eat past dark. If you must head to the kitchen after the sun goes down, here’s what to keep in mind:
- Banish foods that stimulate the body and are hard to digest. This includes refined carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, anything containing caffeine, red meat and spicy or fatty foods.
- Avoid dairy. Its inflammatory response in the body can cause indigestion, bloating and sleep disruption.
- Choose foods that are easy to digest and high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the body to create the sleepy brain chemical, melatonin. Foods rich in vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium will also promote relaxation.
5 Sleep-Safe Late-Night Snacks
Here are five plant-based foods that pass the test for healthy late-night noshing, so you can go to bed without guilt, insomnia or indigestion.
Oatmeal: This whole-grain comfort food combined with pumpkin seeds has more tryptophan than turkey, says Ruiz. And if you have a sweet tooth, add natural sweeteners like fresh or frozen fruit or a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, real maple syrup or honey. Blackstrap molasses is rich in vital vitamins and minerals too, including iron, calcium, vitamin B6, selenium and magnesium.
Bananas: Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants and bananas are a good source of both. They are also high in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan.
Cherry-Berry Smoothie: A fresh berry or cherry smoothie made with hemp milk is a filling and nourishing combo that will encourage relaxation and is easy to digest. “Hemp has the perfect balance of omega 3s, 6s and 9s for our bodies, which supports a healthy neurological system,” says Ruiz. Cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, which regulates sleep. Use fresh or frozen cherries or berries, but skip adding more ice. Consider blending your smoothie with warm hemp milk, which raises the body’s temperature and makes you sleepy. Toss in flax seeds or hemp hearts for an extra omega punch.
Warm “Milk”: This classic bedtime treat doesn’t have to come from a cow. Since dairy can be inflammatory, try warming up a mug of hemp or flaxseed milk instead, or nut milk made from almonds or cashews. Sprinkle in a dash of cinnamon or turmeric for taste and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Whole-Grain Sprouted Bread: One of the tenets of the chrono nutrition diet is that the body naturally produces more enzymes to combust carbs at night, which can raise levels of tryptophan and serotonin in the body, leading to better sleep. Toast your favorite sprouted bread (easier to digest than non-sprouted varieties) and spread on tahini, fruit, honey, molasses or your favorite omega-rich oil.