While pregnant, Alice Nyangoma could not eat much. However, she would often feel hungry. Although she knew that eating at night was not good for her health, her hunger pangs would not be soothed until she ate something.
While it is acceptable to snack at night for pregnant mothers, it is not a recommended practice according to Bena Okiria, a nutritionist.
Whether you are hungry, stressed or you want to satisfy your cravings, late night eating should be controlled because it causes indigestion and sleeping problems.
Nyangoma says late night snacking is linked to a number of health concerns which involve severe acid reflux and unnecessary weight gain because the calories consumed at that time are usually stored as fat.
“Snacking is okay. It is important and necessary because it helps you meet nutrient requirements. Snacking helps you stock up on nutrients such as calories, proteins, vitamins minerals and fluids that your body needs for the day,” she adds.
However, what you are snacking on, the frequency at which you snack and the time you do make all the difference. According to Okiria, unhealthy snacking on foods high in calories such as sugar, fat and sodium is dangerous. Snacks high in these predispose to overweight, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
Examples of unhealthy snacks include carbonated drinks, beverages high in sugar, fast food (fries, chips) and pastries from unrefined flour, among others.
Okiria adds that excessive snacking usually means you are skipping meals, so you snack in response to hunger instead of having a proper meal. A day’s menu for normal individuals usually has two to three snacking times.
“Snacking may be a habit, so rather than discourage it, we instead encourage healthier choices. Have healthy snacks such as fruits, a vegetable salad which is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. You may choose snacks (pastries) made of unrefined flour such as a sandwich made with whole wheat bread,” he says.
Growing children are recommended to have at least three to four meals and snacks in a day to meet their nutrient requirements.
According to Amanda Twebaze, a nutritionist, if you frequently get hungry at night, find a solution. If you cannot hold it, she recommends that you eat a fruit rich in fibre such as a carrot, apple or vegetable. She also recommends making a smoothie.
“Such fruits do not tax the body in terms of digestion. It is also important that you have a light meal composed of a filling protein and fibre-filled vegetable and after the dinner, eat a vegetable salad, almonds about two hours before you go to bed,” she says.
She adds that such foods aid digestion while the body is resting. Heavy foods right before you go to bed will make you feel tired the next day because the body will try to digest it while you sleep yet it is supposed to be resting.
Healthy food options
If you know that you will have late nights, it is best to have a source of healthy food in your kitchen.
Foods that are low in fat and may help with falling asleep include:
● Warm milk
● Fruits (bananas or oranges)
● Popcorn (low sodium and low butter)
● Caffeine free tea
Tips to curb your late-night snacking
Try these tips to help banish evening cravings and curb after-dinner snacking; and, if you must snack, go for nutritious options.
End mealtime madness
Spend a little time planning ahead and shopping for nutritious meals, including breakfast, and snacks throughout the week. When you eat a variety of foods throughout the day according to your hunger and fullness, you are less likely to overeat at night.
Load up on fibre
Protein can help you feel full faster and for longer, so ensuring you incorporate protein during meals and snacks may help with mindless snacking. Dietary fibre also helps us feel full, in addition to being protective of intestinal and heart health. Find fibre in whole grains, legumes such as beans and lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. The daily recommendation for dietary fibre is 14 grammes for every 1,000 calories, which is about 25 grammes for women and 38 grammes for men per day.
Sleep deprivation can impair glucose metabolism and affect hormones linked to hunger, appetite and body weight regulation. f you are tempted to keep snacking after a balanced dinner, that may be a sign that your body needs rest. Adults should strive for seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Turn off the screen
Screen time may encourage mindless eating and increased food intake. Eating in front of the TV, while playing video games or surfing the Internet can distract attention from what and how much is eaten, reduce satiety signals sent to the brain and lessen memory of snacking.
Still starving after dinner?
People often eat out of boredom, because of stress, or just out of habit rather than from true hunger. Ask yourself the following questions before eating: Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? Am I bored? Am I sad? If you are still hungry after ruling out other factors, it is okay to have a snack. Opt for foods with high protein and fibre and eat small portions slowly, and without distractions.