We've all been told to stop eating after dinner and a few hours before bed for better health. However, what do you do if you're up late and are really hungry or if you were sleeping, woke up, and can't get the thought of pizza out of your head? It definitely happens sometimes, and it's hard to say no to all foods when your stomach feels empty and needs some nourishment. And your stomach is often right, in that you won't be able to fall asleep unless you eat a little something.
Read more: Best Foods to Help You Sleep
"If you're hungry at midnight, you likely didn't eat enough at dinnertime or you had a meal that wasn't super filling," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. "To prevent that, I would suggest making sure you have some protein and healthy fats at dinner to satisfy your appetite. But if you do end up feeling hungry, then you should eat," she says. (That's right, you should eat when you're hungry.)
"There's no need to starve yourself and feel terrible all night," she says. Plus, if it keeps you awake longer from grumbles and that "hangry" feeling, then you'll be missing valuable sleep, which is worse for your health than enjoying a small snack after dinnertime.
"If you have a midnight snack, try to have one that has some protein or healthy fats to fill you up and other nutrients, like vitamins and minerals. Stay away from empty calories or sugary foods that might spike blood sugar levels," she says. You want something "snacky", which could be carb focused, instead of just getting in those fats and protein. And that's totally okay, as long as they are complex carbs with fiber and nutrients. These are the 8 best foods you can eat as midnight snacks, so keep these in your pantry for when you're tossing and turning and dreaming of cheese. Or fries. Or burgers.
"One of the easiest snacks to eat is a bar, but ones that have chocolate can keep you up (since chocolate has caffeine). I like KIND bars, especially the Caramel Almond & Sea Salt flavor, because it's made from nuts, which fill you up, has just 5 grams of sugar and contains 5 grams of protein," says Rizzo. Of course, you can pick other options, but read the label and make sure it's free of chocolate or coffee flavoring and low in sugars, especially added sugars.
Mozzarella cheese sticks aren't just for kids. (Personally, I have one or two a day!) "These are a healthy protein-rich snack that will fill you up without weighing you down," says Rizzo. Each stick usually has around 8 grams of protein for about 110 calories, but you can get a low-fat version, too, for about 6 grams of protein and 70 calories. It's enough to calm your hunger, without over stuffing you in the middle of the night.
If you're a yogurt lover, turn to Greek yogurt instead of having some ice cream or frozen yogurt. "Greek yogurt, and even skyr, is packed with protein and will fill you up. Many varieties are flavored, so they will satisfy your sweet tooth as well," according to Rizzo. Try to aim for ones that have around 9 grams of sugar or less, though, to keep sugar low. Get all our favorite healthy flavored yogurt picks.
If you didn't get your veggie fix in during the day, grab a carrot or pepper and dip it in some hummus at midnight. "Made from fiber and protein rich chickpeas, hummus is a healthy snack that will satisfy your appetite," she says. Just try to stick to the recommended portion size on the label because it's easy to eat multiple servings in one sitting (FYI, that's two tablespoons).
"I actually love popcorn because it's a whole-grain snack that has protein and fiber. But the key to healthy popcorn is how you make it," Rizzo notes. Rather than buying bags of popcorn, buy the kernels and microwave them in a paper bag. Just hit the popcorn button on your microwave, and it will do the work for you. If you want to dress it up, add a drizzle of avocado oil and some salt, she says.
We tend to think of overnight oats for breakfast, but you can eat them for a protein and fiber-rich snack late at night, too. While this requires a little bit of planning, jars of overnight oats will last in your fridge for a few days so you can whip some up for on-the-go breakfasts or have some on hand for snacking. Adding fruit like blueberries or bananas lends natural sweetness and nuts and nut butters can bump up the satiety factor by adding healthy fats and protein.
If you're craving carbs, opt for a whole wheat English muffin instead of a huge slice of bread. "Dave's Killer Bread makes a whole wheat muffin with 140 calories and 6 grams of protein. And if you add a teaspoon of nut butter, you'll be getting some healthy fats, which helps curb appetite," says Rizzo. You can also top it with tomato sauce and cheese for a pizza bagel, which has some good protein, but if you are prone to acid reflux symptoms, skip it, as the tomatoes can be a trigger.
Cottage cheese is a healthy snack that is loaded with protein and there's tryptophan, which helps you snooze, so it works double duty. Because cottage cheese is having a comeback moment there are lots of brands available. Good Culture, adds probiotics, for a gut health boost. Just like with yogurt, if you choose a fruit flavor, check to see how much sugar is in the product. Your best bet is to buy plain and add some fruit. Cherries and pineapple are both delicious options. Learn more about why cottage cheese is good for you.