What are the best snacks before bedtime?

Mixed grain porridge with turmeric-roasted fruit.
Mixed grain porridge with turmeric-roasted fruit. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Q: I know it's not good to eat close to bedtime, but I get hungry. What are the least harmful things I can eat – or drink – say, an hour or two before going to bed?

A: It's hard to resist late-night cravings, but try to limit your bedtime nosh to 400 or 800 kilojoules, 1250 kilojoules tops, said dietitian Isabel Maples, and choose nutrient-rich items that may be lacking in your diet, like fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, wholegrains or nuts, "to really make those kilojoules count." (Seafood and beans are other good options, but not particularly appealing before bed.) Keep in mind that snacking contributes to weight gain, and studies have found that nearly one-quarter of the calories we eat come from snacks.

Pair sliced fruit with yoghurt or cottage cheese.
Pair sliced fruit with yoghurt or cottage cheese. Photo: Edwina Pickles

A banana, apple or other fresh fruit, a small portion of low-fat cottage cheese or plain yoghurt with sliced fruit, or porridge or some other high-fibre cereal with skim milk were frequent suggestions made by experts.

Other suggestions included raw vegie sticks, a couple of wholegrain crackers with a small slice of cheese, a handful of almonds or other nuts, or celery sticks spread with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter or almond butter (measure the nuts and butters – don't eat them straight out of the container).

Combining carbohydrates with protein produces a filling, satisfying feeling, even from a small snack, Maples said.

If you're in the mood for something salty and crunchy, air-popped popcorn may fit the bill, suggested Weight Watchers' Laura Smith.

It's important to note that many people become hungry at night because "they eat too little during the day, and then by the time they get home, they can't stop, because they have built up a huge reservoir of starving inside," said Susan B. Roberts, a senior scientist and professor at the USDA Nutrition Centre at Tufts University. For others, she said, snacking before bed may just be a bad habit.

Also ask yourself: Are you really hungry? People often mistake thirst for hunger. Try drinking more throughout the day, and having more water or carbonated water with dinner.

Before bed, try a glass of low-fat milk, hot or cold, non-caffeinated tea or, best of all, plain old water.

The New York Times