What you need to know:
- Studies have found that eating dinner late at night tends to elevate blood-sugar levels more than standard mealtimes do. Other studies however, say it is perfectly fine to eat at night. How much you eat is the question.
Eating a late supper has long been associated with weight gain.
However, according to nutritionist and dietitian Daniel Muwanguzi, a team leader at NutriTherapy Uganda, there is nothing wrong with eating a light, healthy snack at suppertime as long as you plan for it as part of your total daily calories.
“Going to bed hungry can also disrupt sleep, so there is a fine line here,’’ Muwanguzi says.
The problem comes when people eat at night for variety of reasons that often have little to do with hunger, from satisfying cravings to relieving boredom which leads to careless consumption of huge amounts of food.
What to have for a late snack
Muwanguzi says usually carbohydrates in foods such as warm milk, fruit, or crackers can help to drift one off to sleep because these sugars hit the serotonin in the brain and can aid sleep.
According to hormone.org, serotonin is the key hormone that stabilises moods, feelings of well-being and happiness. This hormone impacts the entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other and helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.
Foods not good to eat late at night
“Eating a full meal late at night right before going to bed can be harmful, as it can cause heartburn, weight gain, and may even disrupt sleep,” says Muwanguzi.
All insoluble fiber such as whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and healthy vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower should be avoided because they force the body to undergo a rigorous digestion process that may make it difficult to even fall asleep yet peaceful sleep is a major component of a healthy lifestyle.
“These are also food that cause a morning fatigue due to the energy input of the body to breakdown the supper,” Muwanguzi says.
Heavy meals with beans, dairy products, and other foods that cause gas and bloating can also contribute to a restless sleep.
According to Muwanguzi, beans are a major foundation of a healthy diet in Uganda, yet they often leave discomfort through our digestive systems.
For many people, eating a lot of chili or rice and beans before sleep is asking for a night of indigestion and gas pains.
“Consuming a spicy bowl of curry or any hot sauce will awaken your taste buds, but it will also keep you awake into your sleeping time and may cause indigestion, heartburn, and elevated body temperature, these physical qualities that impair sleep,” the nutritionist warns.
The common assumption that any form of late night eating causes obesity does not apply for individuals that do not eat carelessly for the sake of the routine. It does not really matter what time of day one eats.
“It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight,” says Muwanguzi.
According to Dr Michael Tindikahwa a paediatrician at Nakasero Hospital, Infants, children below the age of 1 year especially those under the age of 6 months, should not be limited to feeding only during the day. Breastfeeding / formula milk feeds should be readily available round the clock.
“With regards to children above the age of one year: ideally, the last meal of the day should be 2 to 3 hours before bedtime; at least earlier than an hour to bedtime. This helps minimise the risk of acid reflux, ‘heartburn’, and of being overweight. It also aids digestion of the ingested food.” says Tindikahwa.
When snacking past supper time becomes inevitable, Dr Michael advises that calorie-rich / sugary items such as doughnuts, ice cream, chocolate, should be avoided. It’s better to snack on a vegetable or fruit salad.