Nighttime Nosh: Eating late at night causes health dangers - February 18, 2015

Courtesy of NWI Times

February 18, 2015 11:48 am • Jane Ammeson

A long day at work, a busy evening. What’s the harm in unwinding and enjoying a slice of your favorite dessert while checking emails, playing a game on your iPad or watching TV?

Actually, a whole lot.

“Late snacking eating definitely can hinder sleep due to eating too many carbohydrates or fats which can lead to gastric reflux or severe heart burn,” says Kelly Devine Rickert MS RDN CSSD LDN, Franciscan WELLCARE Registered Dietitian/Health Coach.

Late night eating, particularly the type of foods we typically crave—salty, fatty, sweet and high in calories—can cause acid reflux which, according to Jamie A. Koufman, a New York physician who specializes in voice disorders and acid reflux, may lead to esophageal cancer which has increased by about 500 percent since the 1970s. Koufman, in a recent article in The New York Times, describes acid reflux as epidemic, affecting as many as 40 percent of Americans. Symptoms include not only heartburn and indigestion but also postnasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic throat clearing, coughing and asthma.

These habits develop, says Rickert, when people don’t eat enough food earlier in the day—skipping breakfast and/or lunch so they are legitimately hungry later in the day and then overeat at dinner or before bed). Sometimes it’s due to boredom.

“When people relax or are watching TV, they want something to munch on so they grab some chips or popcorn or a bowl of ice cream, not because they are hungry but just because they are bored,” continues Rickert.

“We see a lot of people who struggle with night time eating,” says Stacy Sowa, registered dietitian at Methodist Hospitals. “People are tired and they crave certain foods. If you’re eating something high in fat, you’re eating a lot of it and it’s late at night, it can lead to problems.”

Metabolically, late night is the worst time to overeat. A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found people who are overweight are more likely to consume a significant larger amount of calories than normal-weight adults at night.

“Eating late at night doesn’t necessarily cause obesity, depending upon what you eat and how much you eat,” says Sara Van Ryn, a registered dietitian at Methodist Hospitals. “But eating when you’re stressed, to reward yourself or because you’re bored should be avoided.”

Van Ryn recommends knowing what you’re eating instead of eating mindlessly such as grabbing goodies and then nibbling on them while watching TV or working at your computer when it’s much easier to consume more than we realized.

“Choose snacks that are under 200 calories and are high in protein and fiber,” she says.

Say you want potato chips, which we all know are no-no’s almost anytime but particularly as a midnight snack. Van Ryn says when we have cravings for something crispy, don’t fight the urge, just substitute a snack with a crisp taste—carrots, celery sticks—that are healthy.

Once bad eating habits are established they can be difficult to break. Avoid having high caloric snacks around and don’t eat as a way to deal with your emotions.

“Most recent research recommends a balance of what you eat during the day and activity,” says Sowa. “What happens at night is people eat but don’t balance it with activity.”

We also typically eat more at night. Studies indicate meal size tends to increase over the day including one where participants consumed 42% of their total daily calories during and after dinner. These meals and snacks are often higher in fats as well.

“Try to eat balanced meals throughout the day so you can avoid becoming obsessed with food at night,” says Sowa.

Indeed, a study from the University of Texas at El Paso found the gap between food consumption during the day was a significant predictor of meal size for dinner only. People who eat lightly at night consume fewer calories and grams of fat overall (9.3% fewer total calories and 10% less fat overall) compared to people who eat big dinners and nighttime snacks.

How do we go about breaking those habits?

Bad habits are hard to break but Dietitian/Healthcare Coach Kelly Devine Rickert offers the following to help break those night time eating blues.

-Try to eat more balanced meals in the first half of the day so you are not starving at dinner, burn the calories off as they come in mentality.

– Eat a breakfast with more protein in it. Studies show that a breakfast high in protein (30g) leads to less feelings of hunger later in the day.

– Eat a small afternoon snack to curb your hunger before dinner such as an apple and almond butter, veggies and 2 tablespoons hummus or a Greek yogurt.

– If you are hungry after dinner, try and limit your snack to about 100 calories. Try some air popped popcorn, a frozen fruit bar or a few whole grain crackers and peanut butter.