A typical night time snack will be enjoyed after dinner, on the couch, and most likely, after the kids go to bed. If this eating habit is part of your every night, or nearly every night routine, then it may warrant a little more introspection, especially if you are actively trying to alter your eating habits. Many late night snacks include high carbohydrate, high sugar containing foods. Understanding the process of how our bodies use carbohydrates will enable you to make more nutritious late night snack choices.
A Quick Chemistry/Biology Lesson
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Once ingested, carbohydrates are broken down by two enzymes - first α – amylases in saliva and then pancreatic α – amylase in the small intestine. This process yields glucose. Glucose is then transported into the blood stream. Glucose is a sugar that the body uses for energy. If glucose (sugar) is not used, the body stores the glucose as fat. For the body not to store glucose as fat, carbohydrate consumption should take place when energy (glucose) is needed the most.
Simply stated, this means that we should eat when our bodies need energy. This period begins when we first wake up and continues through mid-afternoon. As we approach our sleep time, the body requires less energy. During sleep, our metabolic rate decreases by approximately 15%. As a result, eating carbohydrates before bed increases the chance of storing these sugars as fat.
Many people feel hunger after dinner, however; after some thought and reflection, realize that this hunger is more of a craving in response to their nightly routine or their emotional state. Depending on what you eat, night time snacking can lead to an additional 200-1,000+ calories of unnecessary food intake. Unsure if your night time snack is truly what your body needs? Read on to help sort it out.
Evaluate Your Hunger Level
If you unwind after dinner by sitting on couch and continue your Netflix binge of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and your viewing companion is a bag of chips, before you indulge, take stock of your hunger level. Are you feeling hungry or do you just like having chips while watching TV? If you can’t think of a time when you just watch your show, without your trusty Tostito sidekick, you may be creating a false link of hunger and your body doesn’t need the calories.
Stress and Anxiety
These guys can be a big area of emotional eating that predominantly occurs late in the day and into the evenings. As the day goes on, and problems and difficulties pick up, the stress builds and all of a sudden, you are eating a Tastykake butterscotch krimpet to help soothe your frazzled nerves. Eating as a response to strong emotions instead of a hunger cue can lead to dramatic weight gains in a short period of time.
Lastly, boredom can lead us to nibbling and picking on food that we would otherwise not eat if we were busy with work or a project, or chasing the kids. Food or snacks left out on the counter or within eyesight make it much more likely that you will want for something to eat. However, this is not true hunger. Identify it as the impostor that it is!
There may be a time and place for a well portioned night time snack, as long as it is indeed due to hunger and not other factors such as nightly habits tied with food, stress and anxiety and boredom
So what happens if I’m actually hungry?
Fill Up With Protein
Protein provides the nutrients needed to repair your body after a full day. You need to enable that repair process by eating protein throughout the day. Eating protein also helps you burn more calories because it takes more energy to break down protein than it does to break down carbohydrates and sugar. Choosing an evening snack with a protein component will keep you more full and also help your body repair itself while sleeping.
Add Some Fat
Fats are an integral component to any nutritious eating regiment. Studies have shown that diets high in protein, moderate in heart healthy fat, and conservative in carbohydrates lead to greater success in weight loss and in weight maintenance. Incorporating heart healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, soybeans, and peanut butter into your day can lead to a greater feeling of satiety and greater control of food choices. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, which contain 4 calories per gram, fat is a high calorie diet component and contains 9 calories per gram. Although they are more than twice as dense as carbohydrates and protein, they help to keep you twice as full.
Fill Up On Fiber
Fiber, like protein and fat, helps you feel full, takes longer to digest, and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
The next time evening hunger hits, try our favorite Pumpkin Energy Bites!
OPN Conversion: 2 = 1 starch + 1 fat
- 1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or honey/agave)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (mini works best)
- In a medium bowl add oats, chia seeds, peanut butter, pumpkin, maple syrup, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice. Stir to combine. Mixture should be soft but not too sticky - if unable to roll into a ball with minimal mess, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more oats.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Scoop into hand and roll into 1 - 1 1/2 in balls.
- Recipe should yield 20-24 balls. Store in fridge.
Eating what you love and feeling satiated can still allow you to reach your health goals! To learn more, download our No Diet Nutrition Guide