Q: I know it’s not good to eat close to bedtime, but I get hungry. What are the least harmful things I can eat — or drink — say, an hour or two before going to bed?
A: It’s hard to resist late-night cravings, but try to limit your bedtime nosh to 100 or 200 calories, 300 calories tops, said Isabel Maples, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and choose nutrient-rich items that may be lacking in your diet, like fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains or nuts, “to really make those calories count.” (Seafood and beans are other good options, but not particularly appealing before bed.) Keep in mind that snacking contributes to weight gain, and studies have found that nearly one-quarter of the calories we eat come from snacks.
A banana, apple or other fresh fruit; a small portion of low-fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt with sliced fruit; or oatmeal or some other high-fiber cereal with skim milk were frequent suggestions made by experts interviewed for this article.
Other suggestions included raw veggie sticks, a couple of whole-grain crackers with a small slice of cheese, a handful of almonds or other nuts, or celery sticks spread with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter or almond butter (measure the nuts and butters — don’t eat them straight out of the container).
Combining carbohydrates with protein produces a filling, sating feeling, even from a small snack, Maples said.
If you’re in the mood for something salty and crunchy, air-popped popcorn may fit the bill, suggested Laura Smith, a product manager for Weight Watchers.
It’s important to note that many people become hungry at night because “they eat too little during the day, and then by the time they get home, they can’t stop, because they have built up a huge reservoir of starving inside,” said Susan B. Roberts, a senior scientist and professor at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts University, and founder of the online iDiet weight management program. For others, she said, snacking before bed may just be a bad habit.
Also ask yourself: Are you really hungry? People often mistake thirst for hunger. Try drinking more throughout the day, and having more water or carbonated water with dinner.
Before bed, try a glass of low-fat milk, hot or cold, noncaffeinated tea or, best of all, plain old water. “Drinking water is clearly the least harmful item to have before bed,” said Barry Popkin, a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.