Fact or Fiction: Is eating late at night unhealthy?

You have probably heard about the importance of eating three meals per day as a part of a healthy diet. Now-a-days, the meaning of a healthy diet varies from person to person. For many people eating three meals a day may not be realistic. Things like culture, work, school, and religion all affect how often we eat. Since the way we eat has changed, there is new research on the most healthful eating habits. A new topic of research is focused on what time you eat instead of how often. This new area of research has left many people wondering what the best time to eat is. This also brings up the question, is eating late at night unhealthy? To answer this question, we will explore the current research to understand how late-night eating affects our health, if at all.

What is “Late-Night” Eating?

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Before we get into the research, I think it is important to explain what is considered “late- night”. “Late-night” eating is any eating that happens during or after the body’s biological “nighttime”. The body’s biological “nighttime” is when our eyes detect the sun going down and signals the release of the hormone melatonin.1 Melatonin is important for the body’s sleep-wake cycle that is a part of what is known as the circadian system. The circadian system is your body’s version of an alarm clock that tells you when to wake up and when to sleep.

The Body’s Internal Clock

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The circadian system is made up of two major “clocks”. The first is the central clock that is found in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The second are the peripheral clocks found throughout the body. 2 Together, these “clocks” make up the circadian system. The circadian system is in charge of our sleep-wake cycle, release of hormones, heart health, blood sugar levels, body temperature, and metabolism.2 One of the main roles of the central clock is to detect changes in light which leads to a release of hormones.  On the other hand, the peripheral clocks have specific jobs based on their location. The best way to think of the peripheral clocks is to imagine the different time zones around the world. Each part of the world has its own time zone. The peripheral clocks are the same because each clock is in different organs or tissues in the body. For example, the peripheral clocks found in muscle, fat, and the liver all work to control the body’s ability to lower blood sugar levels by releasing the hormone, insulin. 3 While the central clock is set by light, the peripheral clocks can be reset by food. 4 Any changes to our internal clocks can change the way our circadian system works.  These changes can lead to potential problems in our body. 

Effects of Late-Night Eating

  1. Increased Risk of Obesity

In 2017, a study was done on college students to understand the relationship between the timing of meals and body fat.  For a week, the students were asked to track their meals on an app. The app tracked the time of their meals and measured their portion sizes before and after eating. The students also wore a wristband that tracked their usual schedule. To measure their biological “nighttime”, the students were taken to the lab for a 16-hours. The melatonin in their saliva was checked every hour and when the level stayed above 5pg/ml it was marked as the beginning of their biological “nighttime”. The results found that students with high body fat and a high BMI (body-mass index) ate most of their calories about 1.1 hours closer to their biological “nighttime” than the lean students.5

Another study found that higher intake of calories at least two hours before bed increased the likelihood of being obese by five times. 1

2. Decreased Glucose Tolerance

Recent research has found that both our circadian system and timing of meals influence our body’s ability to release the hormone insulin during high blood sugar levels.6 In 2014, healthy US adults sleep, and wake cycles were monitored for two 8-day periods. During the first three days, the participants were told to sleep from 11pm-7am.  On day four, their sleep schedules were shifted by 12 hours to see how changes to the circadian system would affect glucose tolerance. The results showed that on day one of the study, during the body’s biological “nighttime”, glucose tolerance was 17% lower than during the day.6 Similarly, the study found that the participant’s blood sugar levels two hours after a meal was 8% higher at dinner (at 8pm) than at breakfast (at 8am).6 This suggests that blood sugar control is lower both at night and at biological “nighttime”. One thing to keep in mind is that this study only had 11 participants so more research is needed in this area.

3. Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Another area of research is the association of late-night eating on the risk for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is used to describe diseases that affect both the heart and blood vessels. 7 There are many factors that can increase the risk of heart disease including obesity, saturated fat intake, and cholesterol levels.7 The type of cholesterol that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease is LDL cholesterol which is the “bad” cholesterol. In a study on healthy Taiwanese adults over the age of 19, participant’s timing of food was studied to understand their impact on blood cholesterol levels. The results of the study found that eating 100 calories more at night was associated with a higher risk of higher LDL cholesterol by 0.94mg/dL. 8 Another key finding of the study was that high fat intake at night was associated with a higher value of LDL cholesterol by 2.98mg/dL.8 This study considered night to be anytime between the hours of 8:30pm and 4:59am.

Final Verdict

Now that you know the facts, you may still be wondering, “should I eat at night?” The answer to that question is complicated and depends on a few different things. The frequency, calorie distribution, and quality of food choices related to late-night eating can make the difference to whether it is healthy or unhealthy.  

Frequency

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “how often do I eat at night?” If you usually eat late at night, it might be worth exploring if there are any changes you can make to eat your last meal earlier.  

Calorie Distribution

Another thing to consider is the size of your meals at night. The more calories you eat closer to bedtime, the less time you have to use it in the  form of energy.  This can increase the amount of food that is converted and stored as fat.  Therefore, eating most of your calories earlier in the day can help to prevent this from happening. 

Quality of Food Choices

You should also take some time to think about what kinds of foods you eat before bed. Most of the time when we roam into the kitchen late at night, we are after foods that are sweet, salty, or maybe both. Large meals that contain a large amount of carbohydrate can give you a boost of energy that can make it hard to fall asleep. Similarly, foods that are high in added sugar can give you a “sugar” rush that can leave you tossing and turning all night. Thinking about the food you usually eat late at night may help to give you a better idea of whether your late-night eating habits are healthy or not.

Regardless of the time of day, poor food choices are still poor food choices.

Depending on your usual habits, eating late at night can either be healthy or unhealthy.  Keep in mind that nutrition is not a one size fits all. Things like genetics, environment, age, race/ethnicity can make a difference in our risk for certain conditions/diseases. While some of the research suggests that regular late-night eating may increase the risk of obesity, poor blood sugar control, and cardiovascular disease more research is needed.  

For now, all you need to know is that the choices you make matter day or night.

Tips for Late-Night Eating

1. Choose foods that are high in fiber

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To avoid eating large portions before bed, choose foods like fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber but low in calories. The fiber will help to fill you up without overdoing it on the portion sizes.

2. Pair your carbohydrates with a source of fat

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Another way to fill up without eating large portions is to pair a source of carbohydrates like fruits or vegetables with a source of fat like peanut butter. Fat just like fiber works to fill you up with less. By pairing the two together, you can have a satisfying meal or snack that will keep you from eating larger portions.

3. Drink some water before bed

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The part of our brain that signals hunger is the same part that signals thirst. The hypothalamus controls both hunger and thirst so it is common to confuse the two.  Before you make your way to the kitchen for a snack or meal, try drinking some water first. You might find that is what you really needed.

4. Avoid processed foods

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Many of the studies that mentioned negative effects of eating late at night also mentioned eating high calorie foods late at night. The most common sources of high calories are processed and refined foods like desserts, pastries, and frozen meals. Instead of these foods choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein.

References:

1. Lopez-Minguez J, Gómez-Abellán P, Garaulet M. Timing of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Effects on Obesity and Metabolic Risk. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2624. Published 2019 Nov 1. doi:10.3390/nu11112624

2. Serin Y, Acar Tek N. Effect of Circadian Rhythm on Metabolic Processes and the Regulation of Energy Balance. Ann Nutr Metab. 2019;74(4):322-330. doi:10.1159/000500071

3. Stenvers DJ, Scheer FAJL, Schrauwen P, la Fleur SE, Kalsbeek A. Circadian clocks and insulin resistance. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2019;15(2):75-89. doi:10.1038/s41574-018-0122-1

4. Challet E. The circadian regulation of food intake. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2019;15(7):393-405. doi:10.1038/s41574-019-0210-x

5. McHill AW, Phillips AJ, Czeisler CA, et al. Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(5):1213-1219. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.161588

6. Morris CJ, Yang JN, Garcia JI, et al. Endogenous circadian system and circadian misalignment impact glucose tolerance via separate mechanisms in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(17):E2225-E2234. doi:10.1073/pnas.1418955112

7. St-Onge MP, Ard J, Baskin ML, et al. Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;135(9):e96-e121. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476

8. Chen HJ, Chuang SY, Chang HY, Pan WH. Energy intake at different times of the day: Its association with elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2019;29(4):390-397. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2019.01.003


Falafel + Yogurt Sauce Recipe

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Happy Sunday!

I hope you have all had a wonderful and refreshing weekend after what I’m sure has been a busy week for everyone. I myself have had quite the last two weeks so I made sure to spend some time pampering myself this weekend. One of my favorite things to help me decompress is to develop new recipes. When I’m in the kitchen it’s like all of my sources of stress disappear and I find myself to be calm, cool and collected.  This weekend I had a flood of recipe ideas that I can’t wait to share with you because you are going to LOVE them! For today, I will be sharing with you one of the recipes I finally perfected after much time and that is my beloved falafel recipe. The first time I had falafel was in a local Greek restaurant in the form of a pita sandwich. I loved how filling and fresh it was and couldn’t stop thinking about it for a while. I decided to give making them at home a shot with one major modification– I would avoid deep frying them in oil. One of the best parts about falafel is the crispiness of the falafel itself, but I figured I could make them just as delicious by simply pan-frying them instead. After making a few tweaks to the recipe I finally landed on a winner and today I get to share it with you. These falafels can be used to make lettuce wraps, pita sandwiches, salads, and so much more as they are extremely versatile. They provide a healthy serving of fiber and plant-based protein along with an abundance of vitamins and minerals. These falafels require very minimal heating which makes them great as we dive deeper into the warm weather season!  I especially like to make these at the beginning of the week to keep them in the fridge so I can quickly make a meal. The necessary ingredients are very minimal which also makes this recipe incredibly budget-friendly! Let’s get started by getting into what you will need to make this recipe.

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Marinara Sauce

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Happy Friday everyone! I hope you are all having a wonderful start to your weekend! Today I wanted to share with you a quick & easy marinara recipe that was a result of not having gone to the grocery store to pick up my usual premade sauce. About 2 weeks ago, I was in the mood for pasta but realized I had no sauce on hand. Usually I would have gone to the store but I have made it a goal of mine this year to avoid going to the store for just 1 item. As I rummaged through my pantry I found some fresh Roma tomatoes, garlic, tomato sauce &  few other spices and figured I would give it a shot at making my own sauce! That was hands down one of the best decisions I could have made because it was well worth it. This sauce tasted so much better than any store bought variety I had tried & was so cheap to make. You can use this sauce for pasta, pizza, meatball subs or really just about anything your heart desires! Now without further ado let’s get into the recipe!

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Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

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September has officially arrived and I am so excited because fall is my favorite time of year! Even though here in southern California we don’t get much of a fall, I still look forward to having weather below 100°.  With cooler weather comes warm drinks and hearty, comforting meals and today I’ll be kicking off our fall-inspired meals with my lentil shepherds pie. Traditional shepherd’s pie is made using ground beef, a variation of veggies, and topped with creamy mashed potatoes. This recipe is only different in a few of the ingredients but all the flavors come together to produce an incredibly satisfying & hearty meal. It sounds so much fancier than it actually is because all of the ingredients are very humble and easily accessible to everyone.

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Self-Care Practices

Hi guys!

So in my last post, I decided to get really personal and share my experience with stress. I wanted to share with you, not just the things I know about health but also my own struggles that have impacted my health. Today I want to share with you some of the things I do to take care of myself to avoid feeling defeated when presented with a stressful situation.  The best way to manage stress is to prevent it from happening altogether, and the best way to prevent feeling overwhelmed is to take care of yourself by listening to your body. Being able to listen to your body is one of the most important life skills to master because it can make the biggest difference in how you react when presented with a stressful situation. The feeling of being overwhelmed that is often associated with stress is a result of feeling like we don’t have control over the situation. However, the one thing to keep in mind that will help prevent stress from setting in is to take charge of the things that you do have control over such as your self-care habits. By incorporating some of these self-care practices into your life, you can help to keep your physical, mental, and emotional health in check to keep your life as stress-free as possible.

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Decoding the Nutrition Label

 

Within the realm of nutrition and health, there are so many products that claim to be “healthy”. How can you really tell whether or not a product is actually good for you? The answer lies on the box of the product in the format of what is known as the nutrition label. Every item that is sold for consumer consumption is required by law to highlight the nutrient breakdown. In other words, the nutrition label breaks down in detail the amounts of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) within the product. The best way to take charge of your health is to familiarize yourself with reading and understanding the nutrition label. With that being said,  today I’ll be breaking down the information you need to be aware of and what exactly each area means.

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Green Smoothies

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One of the most popular “health” foods are green smoothies. While they may be convenient and quick when on the go, not all green smoothies are all that healthy. In fact, many green smoothies are loaded with sugar to compensate for the added vegetables. Although fruits are a healthy choice, they are naturally high in sugar so just like any other sweets, they should be eaten in moderation. Fruits are usually better as a snack in between meals when paired along with a source of fat and protein. When too much fruit is added to a smoothie, it can spike blood sugar levels which will ultimately make you crash. For that reason, I have created two smoothie options that contain both protein and fat to help counter-balance that blood sugar spike. Whether you like fruity smoothies or creamy smoothies, I’m sure that you will find one of two of these recipes will help to satisfy your craving. Both of these recipes contain spinach which is high in vitamins A, C, K, and the mineral folate. These smoothies are very filling and are best suited for a meal replacement.


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Panko Crusted Cauliflower

 

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Hi guys! So I know it’s been awhile since my last blog post, but thank you for being so patient with me. Today I’ll be sharing with you one of my pride and joys and that is my recipe for panko-crusted cauliflower. Growing up, my mom used to make panko crusted chicken and I was obsessed. But as I got older and became more health conscientious I realized her pan-frying method maybe wasn’t the healthiest approach. But because I loved my mom’s recipe so much I was determined to find a healthier alternative that was as equally delicious. That’s when this recipe was born. This is one of my all-time favorite ways to prepare cauliflower because it is filing and so satisfying. The crunch from the panko makes all the difference and it is truly one to try out. These are amazing tossed in just about any sauce you can imagine and are a lighter option for chicken strips and/or nuggets. The flavor combinations are endless and you can use them to top a salad, add to a wrap, or just eat as finger food. Before we get into the recipe, here’s a little background on the star of the show-cauliflower.

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Health Conscientious or Health Obsessive

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Up to this point, I have given insight into the various source of macronutrients, tips on eating healthy, and provided a recipe idea to help inspire you to live a healthier lifestyle. However, before I go any further I wanted to talk about the fine line that exists between being health conscientious and health obsessive. Someone who is health conscientious realizes the true value of their health and understands that there are certain things their body needs to flourish. With that being said, people who are health conscientious also understand the importance of balance and self-love. Whereas someone who is health obsessive does not and instead demonstrates destructive behaviors all for the sake of perfection. The key to living a healthy lifestyle is not about perfection but rather intention. Every single day you are presented with the opportunity to make choices that will either push you toward or away from your goals but it is all up to you. Down below I have included some behaviors that will help you to determine where you lie on the spectrum of health conscientious or health obsessive.

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Simple Snack Solutions

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Snacking in between meals is extremely important to help maintain a steady flow of energy and to help boost your metabolism. If our blood sugar levels drop too low, we may feel dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed which in turn will cause our bodies to slow our metabolism.  By having “smart snacks” on hand, you can help to boost your dwindling energy levels throughout the day. “Smart snacks” are those that combine a serving of carbs, fat, and protein to help steady our energy levels. Carbohydrates like fruits, veggies, and granola provide the body with a burst of energy. Meanwhile, protein and fat sources like eggs, peanut butter, and hummus help to curb and keep hunger at bay. Down below I’ve included further detail on why these snack options are worth trying out.

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