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Best and Worst Foods to Eat Before Bed

Your pre-bedtime snacks deserve as much attention as the rest of your eating plan. Bedtime snacks are one of life’s little pleasures, something to look forward to. A moment of self-care. Savvy snackers also know that a bedtime snack is an opportunity to boost their nutrition, further their dietary goals and help ensure a better night’s sleep. Poor bedtime snack choices can thwart comfortable sleep, cause you to wake during the night, undermine a day’s healthy meals and even exacerbate conditions like heart disease or diabetes.

Without further ado, let us present some of the best and worst bedtime snacks!

Best for weight maintenance or loss:

Slice of whole grain toast with hummus. If you’re craving a snack that’s almost a meal, go for filling fiber. Savory hummus, made from chickpeas, is rich in B vitamins and offers about 2 grams of protein per 2-tablespoon serving.

Cottage cheese and tart cherries. Top ¾ cup of 2 percent cottage cheese with half a cup of tart cherries for a triple whammy: 22 grams of protein from the cottage cheese, a boost of sleep-inducing melatonin from the cherries and the calcium on cottage cheese helps your body make more melatonin. Win-win-win. All for a diet-friendly 170 calories.

Banana and nut butter. Slice up a medium banana and top it with a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter, ideally one with no added sugar like Justin’s Classic Almond Butter or Smucker’s Organic Natural Peanut Butter. Bananas are made of fast-digesting carbs, which is optimal for before-bed snacks, and those healthy carbs will cause the release of a little hit of insulin, which helps the sleep hormone tryptophan work. Nut butters contain enough healthy fat to help satiate you, but if you just need a snack, stick with just one tablespoon.

Worst for weight maintenance or loss:

Ice cream. Sorry, sometimes the truth hurts. Ice cream is packed with sugar and super-unhealthy saturated fats, both of which can trigger cravings and lead to overeating. Plus, the sheer volume of sugar in ice cream elevates blood sugar, which can make it tough to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Chips or fried food. Because of their high fat content, fried foods take longer to digest, which can make sleep a challenge. Fried foods are also known for causing heartburn and other gastric distresses, which are tough to try to sleep through. Chips also contain loads of sodium, too much of which can increase your blood pressure.

Chocolate (even dark chocolate). While it’s true that a small square of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or greater) is a reasonable indulgence every so often because of its antioxidants, it’s a poor bedtime choice because its sugar content is high, making it a calorie dense food. Add to that the hit of caffeine from the cacao, and chocolate before bed is a recipe for poor sleep and weight gain.

Best for better sleep:

Cheese and crackers. An ounce of cheese and a few whole-grain crackers is an excellent choice for a pre-bed nosh. The calcium in cheese helps your body use the tryptophan that’s naturally found in dairy to make melatonin, a hormone produced in a tiny gland in the middle of your brain. Ideally, we produce more melatonin at night, which helps us know it’s time to sleep.

Half a turkey sandwich. One slice of whole-grain bread topped with a slice or two of turkey, a dab of mustard and a generous layer of romaine lettuce is like a sleep sandwich. Lettuce contains lactucarium, a compound with known sedative effects and romaine contains more of it than any other lettuce. Turkey, legendary king of sleep-inducing foods, contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid that travels from our digestive system, via our blood, ultimately landing in our brain, which converts it into serotonin, which calms us down and helps us sleep.

Small mashed sweet potato with honey. Sweet potatoes are a super food. They’re high in fiber, low in saturated fat and packed with vitamins including A, C and B6, plus potassium, magnesium and zinc. The complex carbohydrates help us make serotonin, the micronutrients zinc and magnesium work together to make melatonin and vitamin B6, AKA the sleep vitamin, also aids in the production serotonin and melatonin.

Worst for better sleep:

Booze. Sure, we see people on TV or in movies enjoying an elegant snifter of brandy or other nightcap before bed but science has shown that drinking alcohol of any kind (including wine or beer) before bed, while it may make you drowsy at first, will also make you more likely to wake up during the night. It also relaxes your muscles, which can mean snoring and/or acid reflux.

Hot peppers or hot sauce. If you want to sleep well, no chips and salsa before bed! Hot sauces like salsa contain capsaicin which can keep the lower esophageal sphincter to stay open longer than it should, leading to painful heartburn. Hot peppers, which are great for raising your metabolism during the day, have the ability to raise your body temperature. That’s called having thermogenic properties, which is the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to sleep. As we approach sleep, our body’s core temperature natural drops, so eating something that raises it could make you feel too awake to sleep.

High fat or high protein foods. A little protein and fat combined with complex carbs is a great bedtime combo, but a big fat burger, slice of pizza or hearty steak dinner can trigger heartburn. Pizza’s combo of high fat and acidic tomato sauce is a recipe for acid reflux. Research shows that a meal loaded with protein (think: steak) can lead to sleep disturbances, heartburn and indigestion.

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