Full disclaimer: We all know that regularly eating late at night could lead to weight gain. That’s especially true if you’re snacking on foods that contain refined carbs and starches—like bread and rice, as well as guilty-pleasure items like potato chips and cookies—which are low in fiber and high in sugar. Sure, they may be a quick fix for your hunger, but if you don’t use the converted energy, those calories can be stored as fat. Talk about bad news for your waistline.
Still, experts say it’s best not to go to bed hungry (and here’s why). So when your tummy starts rumbling after you turn out the lights, what should you do? Try reaching for a high-protein snack like cottage cheese.
That was the food used in a Florida State University study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2018, which found that consuming 30 grams of protein about 30 minutes before bed could have a positive impact on metabolism. While the study was small and only involved active twentysomething women, it was the first to explore this possibility in whole foods, as opposed to the protein shakes and other protein supplementation researched in earlier studies.
Not a cottage cheese fan?
Don’t worry: There are a ton of other good protein choices at your disposal. “Try eating sliced lean proteins such as chicken, roast beef, tofu, boiled eggs, or a small handful of almonds 30 minutes prior to sleep to maintain satiety throughout the night,” suggests Bridgette Agee, a registered nurse and the Bariatric Program Manager of the Marina Weight Loss Center at Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital in California, who was not involved in the study. “These foods will also provide the energy needed for metabolism, thus increasing your weight-loss efforts.”
Almonds or walnuts are some of the healthiest nuts you can eat and may be particularly good suggestions for people who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or simply don’t care for dairy. Nuts are generally high in good fats, as well as a good source of protein and nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium, to name a few. Just remember to eat them mindfully—i.e., keep that handful to just a handful—since calories can add up quickly.
If dairy isn’t an issue, you might also want to consider mozzarella string-cheese sticks. At fewer than 100 calories per pop, these tiny-but-mighty snacks provide six grams of protein with just one gram of carbs, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Plus, you won’t have to worry about overeating, thanks to their prepackaged portions.
While this tiny tweak may work some magic, the real key to losing weight is cutting calories. Getting rid of unhealthy snacking is a big part of that and good planning can help. “Sequencing your meals of a lean protein and vegetables every four to five hours will provide the energy needed to activate and maintain weight loss,” Agee says. “By planning, you can [also] be certain to have healthier choices available to eliminate mindless snacking.”
Of course, smart snacking isn’t just for nighttime. Check out these 30 healthy snacks that can curb your cravings and still help you lose weight.