Diet & Nutrition

here’s what you need to know

Plus, seven dietitian-approved suggestions.

In the world of diets, eating after dinner is a bit of taboo. At the same time, going to bed with a grumbling tummy isn’t much fun, either. So, how bad for you, really, is eating before you go to bed?

And what about when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the contents of your fridge? Here’s your dietitian-approved answer.

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The golden rule for eating before bed

The most important thing in setting up healthy night time eating habits is to ask yourself whether or not you’re actually hungry before you dig in – because there’s a *big* difference between being hungry and having a craving.

Essentially, true hunger can be satisfied with any food, while a craving is a desire for a specific food that you don’t have to be hungry to want.

Most people eat according to their routine or out of habit without giving a second thought to their hunger or fullness cues. If you are genuinely hungry (read: you can hear your tummy grumbling or you have a feeling of emptiness in your stomach), then by all means, go ahead and satisfy those hunger pangs with a small, sensible snack.

If you’re simply eating for the sake of eating or for an emotional need, then it’s time to implement some non-food strategies to fill whatever gap it is you’re trying to plug with food. Think: a relaxing bath, a phone call to a friend or half an hour with a good book.

Is it unhealthy to eat before bed?

If you’re mindlessly shovelling chocolate, chips, lollies or ice cream into your mouth in front of the television every night, then hell yeah, eating before bed is not the best thing for your health. Not only will you find it harder to get to sleep, but you’ll put on weight in the long run, too.

If you’re genuinely hungry and reach for something on the lighter, healthier end of the spectrum before you hit the hay, however, I don’t have too many concerns.

Healthier night-time munchies

To give you a helping hand with satisfying true hunger pangs at night time, here are seven of my top healthy night time snack suggestions.

#1 A piece of fruit

Yep, a plain old boring piece of fruit – I know it’s not always what you feel like, but fresh fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth without unnecessary added sugar. Plus, it’s a wonderful source of hunger-busting fibre and contains a stack of disease-fighting antioxidants.

#2 A handful of nuts

Nuts offer a winning trio of heart-healthy fats, gut-loving fibre and plant-based protein, all of which work to keep you feeling full and satisfied. I’d recommend 30 grams of raw, unsalted nuts for a healthy portion size.

#3 A glass of milk

It’s not an old wives tale – a glass of milk before bed really can help you enter the land of nod. That’s because it contains a compound called tryptophan which is used in the production of melatonin, an important compound for sleep.

#4 Cheese and crackers

You heard it here first – cheese and crackers is a healthy snack, as long as it doesn’t resemble the weekend cheese boards you devour with the girls. Opt for a wholegrain cracker and pair it with something light like cottage or ricotta cheese.

#5 Hummus

Also on the wholegrain cracker train, a wholesome dip like hummus or salsa can help to boost your daily intake of veg. Keep an eye on your dip portion size – a tablespoon paired with a few crackers (read: not the whole packet) is usually more than enough for a snack.

#6 Yoghurt and Muesli

A couple of tablespoons of yoghurt and a sprinkle of natural muesli is another good idea if your tummy is grumbling before bed. It provides low-GI energy to keep your blood sugars balanced, as well as a hint of bone-strengthening calcium.

#7 Popcorn

You might be surprised to hear this, but air-popped popcorn counts towards your daily wholegrain target, so is actually a very healthy food. For obvious reasons, I’m not talking about the buttery, salty kind you get at the movies – instead, a cup or two of plain, air-popped popcorn will do the trick.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.