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


Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

If you’ve followed my blog for some time now, you would know that I’m not one to make a lot of sweet dessert type recipes. It’s not something I intentionally do, but it has more to do with the fact that I am not the biggest fans of sweets. I know, call me crazy, but since I was a little kid I have never been a huge fan of anything sweet. I wasn’t that kid that loved Halloween candy, desserts, or pastries that much. I enjoyed them if they were there but they were never something I was willing to go out of my way for. With that being said, today is an exception because I am sharing with you a recipe I have had in my head for about 2 years but I was never sure how it would come out that is until today. Today I got to work to make my vision come to life to transform the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate into a chewy cookie version. This cookie recipe embodies the flavors of the cult-favorite Abuelita Hot Chocolate with the cocoa and the cinnamon perfectly blended together. As I was making this recipe, I failed and forgot to stop to take photos step by step. However, the process is so easy that I don’t know how helpful those step by step pictures would have been. I will post below the Instagram Reel I created that does break down the process step-by-step for those of you who are more visual learners. One thing I want to mention about this recipe is that is not a cookie that is trying to be anything but a cookie. This recipe uses butter and sugar and it is incredibly delicious. I don’t have to justify why I am posting this recipe because food doesn’t need to be justified. I have said it once before and I will say it again,

The key to a healthy lifestyle is to maintain a balance between the foods that are nourishing to our bodies and those that are nourishing to our soul.

So with that being said, enjoy your holidays, eat the foods that make you happy, and be kind to yourself since we all know this year hasn’t been very kind to us. Now let’s get into what you will need for this recipe.

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Soy & Honey Halibut

Recently, my parents came back from about a week long trip to Alaska where they spent the majority of the trip on a boat fishing and enjoying all the natural beauty Mother Nature has to offer. One of those days spent on the boat was spent fishing for halibut and after a very successful catch, they ended up freezing and transporting 15 pounds worth of wild caught Alaskan Halibut! Me being the foodie that I am couldn’t have been more excited to get my hands on the fish and right away I made my Crispy Fish Tacos with the fillets. Safe to say they were the best fish tacos I have ever had in my life and I do not mean that as an exaggeration. I have never had fresher more tender fish and now I don’t know that I can ever go back to conventional frozen seafood. But for now that I am being spoiled with the fresh fish, I decided to come up with some other yummy recipes. Last week I was looking through my fridge and pantry and noticed I was starting to run low on quite a bit of my staple items. Instead of making a run to the grocery store, decided to make due with what I had and with that this recipe was born. I started by defrosting the fish about 30 minutes ahead and started working on the marinade. After throwing some ingredients to a bowl and whisking it together this soy and honey marinade was born and let me just say that this recipe was a huge hit in my household. Adrian, my boyfriend, is not the biggest fan of fish but he devoured this meal and kept praising me for how good this was. I decided to serve the fish alongside some zucchini and shredded carrots that I tossed in a small amount of soy sauce, garlic powder, and sriracha all atop some white rice. This recipe is incredibly simple and can be used on just about any protein source but I find it goes really well with fish. Fish is a great lean protein source that is also abundant in omega-3 fatty acids which is particularly important for cardiovascular health. With the weather being so dreadful and many of us wanting to spend as little time a possible in the kitchen, this recipe is ideal because dinner can be on the table in no time if you prep the marinade in advance. All you need is 30 minutes to marinate and about 6-7 minutes to cook. Now let’s get into the details of what you will need for this recipe.

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Green Enchiladas + Chile Verde Recipe

If I had to pick one of my favorite Mexican dishes, it would have to be enchiladas without a doubt. While I will never pass up a good taco or chile rellenos, I think enchiladas are usually my go-to dish. My mom makes the absolute best red enchiladas I’ve ever had in my life and since I already recreated that recipe here, I decided to take a whack at the green enchildas. When I was a little girl, I actually did not like green enchiladas and it wasn’t because of the taste or anything, but just because they were green and at that an odd shade of green. Well, fast forward to now and I can’t get enough of them and here I am all these years later making a recipe for them. Who would have thought? One of the reasons I made these was because of the abundance of tomatillos I have growing in my garden along with the poblanos I have coming in. I have started to plant vegetables and fruits that I utilize quite a bit so I can save myself some money and so far it definitely has. Anyways, back to these delicious enchiladas. Before we get into the ingredients, let’s talk about the nutritional benefits of tomatillos–the star of the recipe.

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Peach Tea

As a kid, I was never really into drinking sodas or very sugary drinks. I was that strange little kid that preferred juice or water over soda and would choose a Snapple peach tea any day over a coke or sprite. I used to love Snapple peach tea as a kid and even into my early adulthood and the only thing that made me ease up on it was learning about how much extra sugar was in it. Recently with the weather being so hot, I decided I would try to recreate that much loved Snapple peach tea on my own while also taking advantage of the fresh peaches in season. After several attempts, I finally landed on this one which I can happily say is just as delicious if not better than the Snapple version. Although I did utilize sugar in this recipe, most of it comes from the peaches themselves. By blending the peaches and keeping the skin on, I was able to preserve some of the fiber as well. This recipe is entirely customizable and you can add as much or as little of the peach simple syrup as you like. Although, I would highly recommend you serve it as I have outlined because I know for a fact that as is it is a winner. Over the last few days I have made this 3 or 4 times because we have been going through it that fast. Whether you’re tired of just drinking water or looking for ways to utilize those delicious summer recipes, I think you will find that this recipe will exceed your expectations. Feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page for the nutrition breakdown.

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Baked Zucchini Fries

This season our garden has given us more zucchini than we know what to do with. Every week we harvest AT LEAST 2-3 large zucchinis and when I say large, I mean the equivalent of 2-3 store bought zucchinis in just one. I have been loving picking my produce from my own backyard but with so much of the same vegetable, I’ve had to think up some creative ways to use it without boring myself. One of the first things I thought to make was zucchini fries. If we’re using the word “fries” in the title, I 1000% expect it to be crispy and to live up to the glory that is potato based french fries. I knew it would take some time to perfect the recipe, but this last batch I made was about as perfect as it could get. Coated in fresh parmesan cheese, crispy panko breadcrumbs, and seasoned with Italian seasonings, these are out of this world incredible. This recipe is very straight-forward and although I am trying to create recipes right now that will allow you to avoid heating up your house with the use of your oven, let me just say that these zucchini fries are worth heating the house up. My last batch was gone in under 15 minutes and that was just between Adrian and myself. Now before we get into the recipe, let’s talk about the nutritional value of our star vegetable–zucchini.

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Crispy Tofu

It’s safe to say that the words delicious or yummy are not usually associated with tofu but today’s recipe should change your mind. Tofu has a negative reputation because most people assume you eat it as is and in its natural state is less than desirable. Tofu is a block of compressed soy beans that have been blended to various textures depending on the type of tofu purchased. Tofu comes in soft (best for smoothies or sauces), firm, or extra firm both of which are ideal for use in stir fries or for replicating a typical animal based protein like chicken. Just like traditional animal proteins, tofu needs to be well seasoned and prepared in order to have a satisfactory end result. Luckily it is easier than you may think to yield a delicious product. Without rambling on too much, I will be showing you today my simple recipe for a delicious and crispy tofu that can be tossed in a stir-fry, substituted in sushi, or simply served alongside some rice and veggies. Before we get into the details of what you will need for this simple recipe, let’s quickly review the nutritional advantages of consuming tofu.

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Chorizo Egg Skillet

A few weeks ago, I was looking for some new brunch ideas to change up the routine. I came across a recipe for shakshuka and decided to give it a try. As I was making it, I kept thinking to myself of ways I could modify it to give it more of a Mexican flare. Shortly after I made shakshuka, I decided to get back into the kitchen to try to recreate what I had in my head. To start with, I decided to add in some soy chorizo for some extra protein and also an extra kick. From there I decided what if I placed the filling over a bed of a corn tortillas to mimic huevos rancheros and then I added some cheese over that. Well, to say the least I ended up completely transforming the “shakshuka” but let me tell you that it may be one of my favorite things I have made to date. I made this for brunch on a day I had one of my friends coming over and it did not disappoint. It’s simpler than you may think so let’s dive into what you will need for this recipe.

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Easy Roasted Potatoes

One of my favorite foods to have for breakfast is potatoes. I’m not talking about the sweet kind either, I’m talking about the good ol’ golden Yukon potato. For whatever reason, potatoes have gotten a bad reputation over the last decade but I am here to tell you that in this household potatoes are an absolute must and household staple. Russet potatoes, golden Yukon, and red potatoes have just as much nutritional value as sweet potatoes do the only difference being the amount of minerals varies by each variety. Each potato has its appropriate use and for the purpose of roasting at a higher heat, I have found that golden potatoes yield the best results. I am working on a comprehensive blog post to outline each use of different types of potatoes but for now, i’m letting you know that golden yukon and/or red potatoes are the best types for roasting in the oven.

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Spinach & Artichoke Dip

One of my boyfriend’s favorite snacks is spinach and artichoke dip. Anytime it is offered as an appetizer we usually order it. I have to admit, it is also one of my favorite dips as well and I can usually kill half if not all of the dip by myself. A couple months ago, I was playing around with recipes for this to make it healthier since the traditional recipe for spinach and artichoke dip involves using multiple cups of cheese in addition to mayonnaise. I started by swapping the mayonnaise out for a leaner and much lighter Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is high in protein and lower in fat than mayonnaise and also contains probiotics which is beneficial for our digestive health. From there, I decided to also reduce the amount of cheese used by substituting nutritional yeast in for about half of the cheese. Nutritional yeast is rich in B vitamins and is significantly lower in sodium and contains no saturated fat or cholesterol in comparison to traditional cheese. Nutritional yeast still gives a cheesy flavor to any dish so you won’t even notice that this recipe has less cheese than usual. The few times I have made this dip, it has not made it past the 6 hour mark. The entire bowl is always left completely clean and no one even knows that it’s a healthier version of the traditional spinach and artichoke dip. Now that we’ve gotten all the info out of the way, let’s dive into what you need for this recipe.

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