Nutrition Articles

The 8 Worst Foods to Eat After 8 P.M.

You probably spend a lot of time thinking about what you eat. Reading food labels, counting calories, checking fat grams, measuring portion sizes—it's all important. But do you also consider when you eat? Smart snacking isn't detrimental to your diet, but too much post-dinner noshing and wee-hour refrigerator raiding could cancel out all your daytime restraint.

According to a 2007 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, people who consume most of their food during the evening and nighttime hours are more likely to have a higher body mass index. And in another study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, late-night eaters gained more weight than those who slept instead of snacked.

Of course, there will inevitably be times when a crazy schedule, evening workout or prime-time social event makes it difficult to avoid eating later than you'd like. And it's not always a bad thing, as long as you're truly hungry and aren't stuck in an unhealthy habit of eating at night.

"Most people are active during the day and need fuel during the day," explains Kimberly Gomer M.S., R.D., L.D.N., the Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa. "The habit of eating after dinner can be a way to decompress from the day—but there are times when we don’t necessarily need fuel, just relaxation. That’s when it can cause trouble for weight control and a good night's sleep. On the other hand, if you took a spin class after dinner, then came home and wanted a snack because you were hungry, you shouldn't hesitate to have a healthy snack."

8 Foods & Beverages to Avoid After 8:00

Although mealtimes can fluctuate, experts say there are certain foods that should be contained to daytime hours to prevent any weight loss sabotage. When you do decide to indulge after dinner, try to steer clear of these eight notorious nighttime diet-wreckers.
  1. Burgers and other red meat: Meat (especially lean meat) is a great source of protein, but it's also high in fat, which means it digests slowly. Eating a burger or steak late at night can cause bloating or stomach pains as your body works into the wee hours to break it down. "Animal fats in large amounts put people at risk for elevated cholesterol and heart health risk," adds Gomer, who recommends steering clear of high-fat meats and cheeses before bed.
  2. Breads and pastries: When you're trying to lose weight, foods with a high calorie density are best avoided before bed. "The amount of calories in a pound of food will determine its density," explains Gomer. "Watery foods have low-calorie density, because the weight is taken up by water." As food gets drier—think bread, cereal and crackers—the density increases. Fruits and veggies are always a better choice.
  3. Processed packaged foods: That bag of pretzels or whole-grain crackers may seem innocent enough, but the large amount of processing has nullified almost all nutritional value, leaving behind the stuff you've been trying to avoid. "Anything highly processed has the potential to be unhealthy, because the foods are loaded with extra salt, sugar and fat, which is a health risk," says Gomer.
  4. Soda and coffee: A good night's sleep is an important ingredient in successful weight loss, and downing a cuppa joe or cola with caffeine before bed could put your shuteye in jeopardy. Steer clear of stimulants after mid-afternoon, or eight hours before you plan on hitting the sack. Try sticking to non-caffeinated tea or water instead.
  5. Chocolate: You might not think of chocolate as a stimulant, but a two-ounce dark chocolate bar with 10 percent cocoa butter contains 79 milligrams of caffeine—well over half of what's in a cup of coffee, and enough to disrupt sleep for those who are sensitive to it. Instead of making it a bedtime treat, savor your chocolate squares a few hours before turning in.
  6. Ice Cream: Curling up with a pint of cookies ‘n cream might seem like a delicious way to relax, but it's also a surefire way to load up on fat and sugar. And because you won't have a chance to burn off the calories, all that extra sugar will also get turned to fat.
  7. Fried Foods: Again, fat doesn't make for a good bedtime companion, and fried foods are full of it. Plus, they take longer to digest, which can cause sleep to suffer. Instead of potato chips or French fries, try chips made from apple, kale, zucchini or soy.
  8. Spicy Foods: Adding a little heat to your meals could have some health benefits, but if it's too close to bedtime, it can also cause bloating, heartburn and indigestion, which aren't conducive to a good night's sleep. 
Evening eating isn't an automatic weight loss wrecker, as long as you're not snacking mindlessly or choosing high-fat, high-sugar foods that could cause blood sugar spikes, weight gain or sleep disruptions. Choosing to eat well during the day is the safest way to keep the pounds at bay.

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About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.

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