Americans love to nibble post-suppertime – here’s what you need to know to make better snack choices
Dinner seems like it happened ages ago and the subtle pangs of hunger are becoming increasingly louder. Your stomach is telling you it’s time for a snack before bedtime. But the question is what should you eat? Too big of a snack can interrupt your sleep. Too little and those gnawing hunger pains will be back before you know it.
Don’t stress – there’s a snack sweet spot to aim for. It means finding tasty, healthy foods that satiate you without spiking your blood sugar or forcing your digestive system to work hard to process them. We’ve got you covered with more than 40 delicious, wholesome suggestions from dietitians, nutritionists, and other health specialists.
All snacks are not created equal
Americans love to nibble between meals and as much as 35% of our total daily calorie intake happens after 6 p.m. The most beloved are chips, chocolate, and cheese. Fresh fruit came in at the no. 5 spot.
“Our society has moved away from the traditional three square meals with more consumers embracing a new wave of grazing also known as snacking throughout the day,” explains Nikki Nies, an online dietitian coach with EduPlated, a website that matches subscribers to a dietitian to help them meet their health goals. “This type of food intake has elevated and multiplied the number of snack options. Yet, like all foods, not all snacks are created equally.”
She suggests that snack fans opt for a combination of macronutrient groups, such as marrying carbohydrate and fat or carbohydrate and protein. This helps stabilize blood sugar levels with the fat, slowing the assimilation of carbs into the blood stream. “While you may want to reach for cookies, chips or ice cream, these snacks can spike blood sugar levels and, in turn, cause disrupted sleep and disruptions to hormone levels,” she explains. “Additionally, be mindful that caffeine-rich foods, such as chocolate may be a better option earlier in the day.”
Nies bedtime snack suggestions
- 1/2 cup of berries or 1/4 cup of dried fruit and 1/4 cup serving nuts
- 1/2 cup cereal with milk
- 3 cups popped popcorn and 1 tablespoon nut butter
- 1 cracker and 1.5 oz cottage cheese
- 2 tablespoons of dressing, pesto, hummus or another dip with high fiber raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, celery and/or radishes)
- 1 oz low-fat cheese with 4 100% whole grain crackers
- 1/2 sweet potato with 1-2 tablespoons of butter and cinnamon
- 1 cup of broccoli with 1-2 oz melted cheese
- 1?2 banana with 2 tablespoons of nut butter
The above-listed snacks also happen to be fiber-rich, meaning they’re great for satiety and may help lower your risk for chronic diseases.
How late-night snacking can affect blood sugar
Something else to keep in mind about your choice of bedtime snack is their effect on blood sugar. It’s best to avoid the roller coaster of spikes and dips. “The best bedtime snacks are ones that are protein-based or protein and fat-based,” says Dr. Joelle Cafaro, a holistic health specialist and founder of Heal4Real.com, based in Winchester, VA.
She suggests a boiled egg, a leftover piece of chicken (or some protein-based meat), a tablespoon of peanut butter, half an avocado or 2 ounces of hard cheese like cheddar or Gouda. Protein and fat in snacks help maintain balanced blood sugar levels through the night, which means sleeping through until the morning.
Sugary foods such as candy, cakes, and pie as well as snacks with caffeine like chocolate as well as some protein bars can cause agitation and alertness at night instead of relaxation. Carbohydrate-based snacks like chips, pretzels, and crackers can cause blood sugar to rise initially, but in a few hours, it falls, leading to waking in the night.
Healthy, but sweet, bites
Sometimes, your cravings demand something sweet, but as our experts say it’s not a good idea to go whole hog on the sugar. What’s a snacker to do? Registered dietician/nutritionist Megan Wolf from Weight Zen in New York City, has a possible solution: her chocolate peanut butter “ice cream.” “Chia seeds are a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber,” she says. “What a combination! This recipe is a wonderful option for a snack or a sweet snack after dinner.”
Chocolate Peanut Butter “Ice Cream”
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
- 1 Cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tbsp. real maple syrup
- 1 apple
- Whipped topping (try the low cal version)
Mix chia seeds, cinnamon and cocoa powder in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup and unsweetened almond milk. Add liquid to dry chia seed mixture. Stir until smoothly blended. Slice apple. Layer apple with chia pudding and refrigerate for 4 hours. Top with healthy whipped topping and fresh raspberries.
When your taste buds dictate that they want something salty and crunchy before bedtime, don’t reach for the potato chips and pretzels. Try these instead. “Kale chips are a great alternative to potato chips – lighter, healthier and just as tasty!” says Wolf. “Use your favorite seasoning to customize your chips.”
Make your own kale chips at home
Kale Chips with Sriracha and Greek Yogurt Dip
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp. sriracha
Preheat oven to 350°. Rinse kale and remove stems. Towel dry kale. Any dampness will result in soggy chips so extra dry! Rip kale into chip-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Massage 1 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil into the kale. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the kale in a single layer. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, or your favorite spices! Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until kale is crispy, slightly browned on edges. Make a simple dip with plain Greek yogurt and Sriracha.
27 suggestions for satisfying and healthy nighttime nibbles
- Carrot, celery, with 1?4 cup hummus
- Cucumber round stacks with whole grain brown rice cracker and Greek yogurt or hummus
- Rice cakes with a thin layer low calorie jam
- Apple sauce with 1/2 graham cracker crumbled on top
- Fruit like an apple or banana cut into small pieces, with 1 tbsp. peanut butter
- Bowl of low sugar high fiber cereal
- Low fat string cheese w 1?2 cup of fruit
- 1?2 cup Roasted Chickpeas
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- Glass of low fat milk with unsweetened cocoa stirred in
- 2 cups of plain popping corn
- 1?2 cup roasted edamame
- Handful of unsalted nuts
- 1 hardboiled egg sliced and stacked with slices of cheese and whole wheat cracker
- Crustless mini quiche
- Baked zucchini wedges with low fat cheese
- 1/4 cup tuna salad with 4 small whole grain crackers
- 1 slice of whole grain toast with 1 tbsp nut butter
- Cottage cheese with fruit, such as berries or peaches, or 3 slices of avocado
- 1 small banana w 1 tsp of Nutella spread over it. Try them frozen
- Kale chips (see recipe above)
- Celery stalks with 1 tbsp nut butter and dried fruit on top
- Cubes of Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds (frozen in ice trays) and served with a drizzle of honey
- Yogurt bites. Combine almond meal, frozen yogurt, and berries and freeze in a muffin cup