Look, we all know that eating late at night isn’t ideal. In fact, a study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows that late-night eating can cause weight gain, impair fat metabolism, and promote cardiovascular problems.
But, sometimes, you’ve just got to do it. Or maybe you just want to do it. Either way, when late-night hunger strikes, certain foods are better than others.
For example, Greek yogurt or an apple will beat a drive-through burger every time, although it takes some discipline to choose the former over the latter. It may also help to consider why, exactly, you want to eat.
“Be aware of why you may be eating,” suggests Louise Chen, RDN. “Are you really hungry, or is it out of boredom? If you’re actually hungry, snack on something with protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates.”
If you’re just bored, well, there are much healthier things you could be doing at midnight. Drinking a glass of water or sleeping come to mind.
That said, if you’re going to eat a late-night snack, you can help your cause by opting for something healthy. For some inspiration, we asked a couple of registered dietitians to share their favorite picks for what to eat when you’re eating late.
“With eight grams of protein and 30 percent of your calcium needs, it is a nutrient-rich way to satisfy a sweet tooth.”
She notes that you can also try a higher protein, lower sugar option like Fairlife, which packs 13 grams of protein and 50 percent of your daily calcium needs into every glass.
Greek Yogurt and Fruit
Full of probiotics and protein, Greek yogurt with chopped fruit or berries is a great way to get nutrients as well as satisfy a hunger craving, says Goodson.
Look for unsweetened yogurts to save yourself from unnecessary sugar, and look to fresh fruit for a kick of flavor. “The sweetness from the fruit will make you think you are eating dessert, but with way less calories.”
Cheese and Crackers
Another go-to option when you’re hungry is whole grain crackers with cheese. Goodson recommends limiting the cheese to a one-ounce serving.
“With a few grams of fiber and protein from the cheese, this should take the edge off your hunger,” she says.
Half PBJ and Milk
Peanut butter and jelly is a childhood favorite, but you’re never too old to enjoy this classic combo. Goodson says to slather some peanut butter onto one slice of high fiber, whole grain bread, and pair it with a glass of low-fat milk.
“The protein, healthy fat, and fiber will satisfy your craving and truly help you feel full,” she adds.
Apple with Nut Butter
Chen likes to pair apples with nut butter when late-night hunger strikes. Cut a medium-size apple into slices, and serve with one to two tablespoons of your favorite nut butter.
It’s tasty and satisfying, and the mix of fiber and healthy fat will fill you up without weighing you down.
Oatmeal with Peanut Butter
Or, try this warm and satisfying “mini breakfast” when you’re eating late. Similar to the above snack, oatmeal provides stomach-filling fiber, while peanut butter brings protein and healthy fat to the table.
To keep calorie counts low, opt for low-sugar versions of both foods. If you want to sweeten things up a bit, Chen suggests adding a few dark chocolate chips to the mix.
Dried Fruit and Pumpkin Seeds
Trail mix doesn’t have to be relegated to actual trails. Create your own late-night version by combining one ounce of dried cranberries or raisins with one to two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, says Chen.
The dried fruit is packed with healthy phytonutrients and antioxidants that can protect your heart, cells, and immune system, while pumpkin seeds are a sneaky source of protein—a one-ounce serving contains about seven grams.
English Muffin with Egg and Swiss
If you want something savory and a bit heartier, Chen suggests this tasty snack. She says to use a whole wheat muffin, and notes that the total calorie count tops 250, which is more than what’s typically recommended for a snack.
So, before eating, be sure that you’re really hungry and haven’t already gone overboard on calories throughout the day.
The takeaway from all this: If you really want a late-night snack, go for it. Just keep things reasonably healthy and try not to make it a nightly habit.
“Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself at a drive-through on occasion,” says Chen, “but be realistic as to how often you’re there.”
Whenever possible, stick with something low-calorie and nutrient-dense, and pay attention to how after-dinner eating impacts your sleep.