Maybe you had a light, early dinner and find yourself peckish at 11 p.m. Maybe you're a growing teen and wake up at 2 a.m. with hunger pangs, even though you ate a big dinner. Or, maybe you just feel like a little nibble as you're staying up to binge-watch your favorite show. Whatever the reason, you're looking for the proverbial "midnight snack" even if it's not precisely midnight.
Eating late at night or in the middle of the night may be the worst time of day to eat. According to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions annual meeting, people who eat more than 30 percent of their daily caloric intake after 6 p.m. have an increased risk of having higher levels of blood pressure, insulin, resting blood sugar and HOMA-IR (a marker of resistance to insulin), reports Live Science.
But if you're going to eat late at night — and let's be honest, it does happen from time to time — choose one of these healthier snacks that will satisfy your midnight cravings while also offering some health benefits. That means going for smart carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein, while limiting sugar.
A study from Florida State University also shows that eating a whole-food protein (cottage cheese or Greek yogurt) 30 minutes before bed can be beneficial for your metabolism and promote more muscle quality and improve your overall health.
So skip the ice cream, cookies, chips or cold pizza and reach for one of these smart choices instead.
No-sugar or low-sugar yogurt with berries
Yogurt provides protein, but if it's also loaded with sugar, you might as well be eating ice cream. Choose sugar-free or low-sugar yogurt. If you haven't tried Icelandic skyr-style yogurt yet, look into it. Brands like Siggis or Icelandic Provisions make low-sugar yogurts that are high in protein. Add some berries on top for some carbs, antioxidants and fiber, and you have a midnight snack that's pretty powerful.
Nut butter on fruit
Healthy fats, carbohydrates, a little protein — as in nut butter and fruit like a banana or a sliced apple — have all the right elements for a good midnight snack. Peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter are all satisfying complements to these fresh fruits.
First of all, step away from the microwave. If you're going to have popcorn in the middle of the night — or anytime — make it air-popped or stove-popped in a little olive oil. The additives in most microwave popcorn brands aren't healthy. But, fresh popped popcorn is high in carbs, fiber and also has some protein. It's also incredibly satiating. You don't even need the butter; just a pinch of kosher salt will do.
Scrambled eggs on whole grain toast
Protein? Check. Smart carbs? Check. Healthy fats? Check. Scrambled eggs on whole grain toast meets all the criteria for a healthy midnight snack, plus you can ramp up the health factor by adding a few vegetables and herbs to it.
It's true that sometimes you think you're hungry when really you're just thirsty, or even just bored. Instead of eating, try a cup of decaf tea. (You don't want caffeine to keep you awake and heading for the fridge in a couple hours.) The tea can make your belly feel full, provide antioxidants, and the ritual of drinking tea may even help you sleep.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in September 2018.