Put down the biscuits! The science behind WHY snacking before bed can make you fat (even if it’s a handful of nuts)
- Eating shortly before sleeping can cause weight gain and increase hunger levels
- Experts urge snackers to make their dinner more filling to avoid hunger pangs
Eating healthily and exercising regularly is the approach taken by many trying to shift the scales.
But while an occasional ‘cheat’ meal or skipped gym session won’t undo your progress, one common habit could be hindering your weight loss.
Eating shortly before going to sleep can cause weight gain, increase hunger levels the next day and lead the body to burn calories slower, experts warn.
Dr Sarah Berry, chief scientist at health-tech firm ZOE, told MailOnline that those who routinely reach for crisps, chocolate and ice cream in the evening should try to make their dinner more filling to avoid pre-bed hunger pangs.
Tucking into snacks too close to bed can cause you to put on weight, increase hunger levels and lead the body to burn calories more slowly, studies show
Snacking can be completely healthy, especially if it’s part of a balanced diet and it involves having a portion of nuts, fruit or vegetables.
However, the timing of your snacks could be as important as what you snack on.
Late-night snacking, when the body is preparing for sleep, is ‘not good for us’, according to Dr Berry, who is also a researcher in the field of nutritional sciences at King’s College London. She set the cut-off for eating at 9pm.
She said: ‘Our body has its own internal clock that regulates how we process food.
‘Eating late in the evening can disrupt our body clock which in turn can disrupt how our bodies respond to food.’
Dr Sarah Berry, chief scientist at health firm ZOE, told MailOnline that those who routinely reach for crisps, chocolate and ice cream in the evening should try to make their dinner more filling to avoid pre-bed hunger pangs
This scrambling of the body clock, also known as circadian rhythm, changes the rate at which calories are burned and raises the risk of weight gain, according to a 2022 study by US researchers.
Dr Berry also noted that eating late in the evening can, counterintuitively, lead to higher levels of hunger when waking up in the morning.
That’s according to another 2022 study by US researchers, which found that late night eating caused a drop in levels of the hormone leptin, which tells the body that it’s full, for 24 hours and caused the body to burn calories at a slower rate.
On top contributing to weight gain and increasing hunger levels, reaching for something sugary or high in refined carbohydrates before bed, such as milk chocolate, ice cream, cookies or toast, causes a quicker rise in blood sugar levels than if the exact same snack was eaten earlier in the day, according to Dr Berry.
‘And we know that rapid rises in blood sugar are not good for our long-term health,’ she said.
Having high blood sugar for extended periods of time can result in permanent damage to the eyes, nerves, kidneys and blood vessels.
Dr Berry said: ‘If you do find yourself hungry in the evenings after you have eaten your dinner, I’d suggest reaching for something that won’t have a big impact on your blood sugar and blood fat levels.’
This could include a handful of nuts, a full-fat Greek yoghurt with some berries or humus with crunchy vegetables, she said.
Dr Berry added: ‘If you don’t fancy swapping the crisps for almonds, I’d recommend checking that your dinners are nutritious and filling to stop those pre-bed hunger pangs.
‘You can do this by adding flavourful vegetables cooked with herbs and spices, and healthy fats such as avocados, oily fish and extra virgin olive oil to your plate.’
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
¿ Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
¿ Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
¿ 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
¿ Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
¿ Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
¿ Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
¿ Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
¿ Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
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