The nutrition world is full of countless claims. Often, carbohydrate is in the limelight, especially when it comes to late-night eating. Is eating carbohydrates at night really that bad for you?
This debate has been going on for ages. To the average person, the concept makes sense, but there’s more to it than you think. Here’s what science says about eating carbs late at night.
The Rumor Explained
Before delving into the research, it helps to know how the recommendation came to be. It’s no secret that the body slows down during sleep. You barely move, so there’s no real chance to burn calories. A 2009 study even found that energy expenditure reduces by 35 percent during the first half of sleep.1
When paired with the concept that extra carbs are stored as fat, pre-sleep noshing just seems like a terrible idea. Or is it?
Despite the initial drop in energy expenditure, it significantly increases with REM sleep.2 Therefore, on average, overall energy expenditure overnight is actually the same as resting metabolic rate during the daytime.3
Carb Myths Debunked
Still not convinced? Here’s the science that proves the “no carbs at night” rule is bogus.
Myth #1: Insulin Is Higher At Night
Yes, it’s true. Compared to the morning, blood glucose and insulin stay elevated for longer in the evening. It’s actually 25 to 50 percent higher than morning meals. But here’s the thing: Breakfast is after an overnight fast. This makes a huge difference! Of course, both mid-day and evening meals would be higher. They’re actually equal to each other.4
#2: All Carbs Are Bad
It’s vital to remember that “carbs” can mean many things. If you’re regularly chowing down on white bread at 10 PM, weight gain is sure to come. However, the same goes whether it’s 6 AM or 1 PM.
There are “good” carbs out there. Complex carbohydrates include whole-grain bread, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are packed with fiber, a nutrient that increases satiety and wards off weight loss. This is why complex carbohydrates are key for weight loss.5
Myth #3: Avoid Carbs To Successfully Burn Fat
There’s some merit to the concept that low-carb diets burn fat. Why not do it at night, so the body can burn fat while you sleep?
It’s not that simple. Since glucose is the body’s first source of fuel, ditching carbs mean the body needs a different source of fuel. Fat can be broken down into ketone bodies, but they’re not as efficient. What’s worse, it can be harmful for the body, and you’re bound to fall asleep (and wake up) hungry.6
Give your body a constant supply of glucose, no matter what time of the day. It’s what it needs to keep on going.
What Should Be Avoided At Night?
That’s not to say evening meals are a free-for-all. Before bedtime, there are some foods you should definitely avoid if you don’t want to mess with your health.
1. Heavy Meals
Heavy meals are never a smart idea, but it’s worse at night. They can cause indigestion and disrupt sleep.7 So instead of worrying about carbs, focus on eating a light, nutritious meal.
2. Greasy Meals
Greasy foods like fried chicken and fries are packed with unhealthy fats. During sleep, these fats move more slowly through arteries. It’s the perfect scenario for heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.8
From potato chips to crackers, salty snacks are addicting and easy. Unfortunately, the sodium in these foods will make your blood pressure skyrocket. You’ll also end up hungrier. As sodium absorbs water, the body’s fluid balance goes out of whack. This makes urea, a waste product in urine, accumulate in the kidneys. This process demands a lot of energy, so it’ll bring on hunger.9
The bottom line? It’s perfectly safe to eat carbs at night, as long as it’s a light meal without refined grains. The same goes for anytime of the day!
|↑1, ↑2||Katayose, Yasuko, Mami Tasaki, Hitomi Ogata, Yoshio Nakata, Kumpei Tokuyama, and Makoto Satoh. “Metabolic rate and fuel utilization during sleep assessed by whole-body indirect calorimetry.” Metabolism 58, no. 7 (2009): 920-926.|
|↑3||Seale, J. L., and J. M. Conway. “Relationship between overnight energy expenditure and BMR measured in a room-sized calorimeter.” European journal of clinical nutrition 53, no. 2 (1999): 107-111.|
|↑4||Van Cauter, E., E. TIMOTHY Shapiro, H. A. R. T. M. U. T. Tillil, and KENNETH S. Polonsky. “Circadian modulation of glucose and insulin responses to meals: relationship to cortisol rhythm.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 262, no. 4 (1992): E467-E475.|
|↑6||D’Anci, Kristen E., Kara L. Watts, Robin B. Kanarek, and Holly A. Taylor. “Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets. Effects on cognition and mood.” Appetite 52, no. 1 (2009): 96-103.|
|↑7||Sleep Hygiene. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑8||Roen, Paul B. “The evening meal and atherosclerosis.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 26, no. 6 (1978): 284-285.|
|↑9||Kitada, Kento, Steffen Daub, Yahua Zhang, Janet D. Klein, Daisuke Nakano, Tetyana Pedchenko, Louise Lantier et al. “High salt intake reprioritizes osmolyte and energy metabolism for body fluid conservation.” The Journal of clinical investigation 127, no. 5 (2017): 1944-1959.|