Got a midnight craving? These late-night snack ideas will keep you alert and healthy

Watch those cravings for sugary, starchy snacks and load up on veg and dip instead.
Watch those cravings for sugary, starchy snacks and load up on veg and dip instead. Photo: iStock

You've probably heard by now that having a late dinner and indulging in midnight snacking is a one-way ticket to insomnia, weight gain and poor eating habits.

But for night owls who veg out in the wee hours watching sports or Netflix marathons, the reality isn't all that dire.

"There's no magical time of day when you suddenly stop burning calories and store them away as fat," says accredited practising dietitian Georgia Bevan.

"Your metabolism is the fire that continues to slowly burn away calories throughout the day and night, even when you're sleeping."

Consequently, late-night snacking doesn't automatically get turned to fat. "We simply digest the nutrients and use them as we need to, which suggests that the calories we consume in the evening don't have any more impact on our weight than they do during the day," she says. 

That said, it's still wise to watch those cravings for sugary, salty and starchy junk foods.

If you love to snack on chips, opt for baked chips or ones cooked in healthier oils rather than greasy fried chips.

Tracie Connor, nutritionist

"When you're so intent on the game, you're just reaching for the snack table and not being mindful of what you're eating or your satiety cues," says Brisbane nutritionist Tracie Connor. 

"You also require energy boosts and stimulants to stay awake, and that's what naturally propels you to reach for those sugary and starchy carbs," she says.

Watching high-energy action sports with friends may also drive you to pick up that extra slice of pizza or a second beer, even though you're full.

Advertisement

"While such behaviours short-term won't be as harmful towards your health - although you may experience the odd sleepless night or acid reflux - it's still important to maintain a balance that allows you to enjoy your time and indulgences but safeguards your health long-term," Connor says.

Raw Refreshing Vegetable Crudites Plate with Ranch Dip Healthy late-night snacks
Crudites, vegetable sticks, dips, dip
Popcorn, 
Trail mix
iStock photos

Pack the table with healthy snacks. Photo: iStock

Brain snacks

The best TV-watching snacks are low in energy and loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats and complex carbs, which naturally and steadily release energy to keep us awake without the need for caffeine.

If friends are coming around to watch a game, pack your table with healthy snacks alongside a couple of treats for everyone to pick at.

Victorian naturopath Chantelle Bell suggests keeping an eye on portions so you don't end up eating too much. 

"A smart way to minimise your calories is to place high-calorie snacks, those rich in saturated fat, salt and sugars, into smaller bowls and serve healthier snacks in larger bowls," Bell says.

"If you stick to eating only what you have in front of you, this will protect your health and prevent you from overeating too many unhealthy items."

And if you're visiting friends, take along your own healthy snacks so you know there's something nutritious to nibble on.

Foods containing tyramine

"Tyramine is an amino acid that's known to naturally stimulate brain activity, and helps you remain awake at night for quite a long time," Connor says.

"Fermented foods like sourdough bread, aged cheeses, cured meat, sauerkraut and sour cream contain tyramine." 

Hummus. Karen Martini MY TUNISIA recipes for Epicure and Good Food. Photographed by Marina Oliphant. Styling by Andrea Geisler. Photographed April 13, 2013.

Get your hummus on. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Raw vegies and dips

Munching on plant-based snacks packed with iron and other nutrients is a great way to fill up naturally, especially if they have high fibre content. 

Try avocado on sourdough, vegetable sticks such as carrots and celery, and legume-based dips such as hummus, which are high in protein and fibre.

Popcorn in a blue bowl on wooden table Healthy late-night snacks
Crudites, vegetable sticks, dips, dip
Popcorn, 
Trail mix
iStock photos

Popcorn is a satisfying high-fibre PM crunch. Photo: iStock

Better chips and crackers

"If you love to snack on chips, opt for baked chips or ones cooked in healthier oils rather than greasy fried chips," Connor says. Serve with fresh salsa or homemade guacamole for a healthier yet delicious snack.

Popcorn is a satisfying high-fibre PM crunch - as long as you give the butter a swerve. Instead, add extra kick with dried spices, cinnamon, black pepper or a light sprinkle of grated cheese.

Wholegrain crackers are a high-fibre option and can be combined with cheese, peanut butter or tahini for extra protein.

Roasted chickpeas, broad beans and edamame are an easy and satisfying pick-me-up that tend to be high in iron and protein, too.

Healthy Homemade Superfood Trail Mix with Nuts and Fruit Healthy late-night snacks
Crudites, vegetable sticks, dips, dip
Popcorn, 
Trail mix
iStock photos

Make your own trail mix. Photo: iStock

Fresh fruits and nuts

When hunger pangs set in, grab seasonal fruits packed with vitamin C, such as oranges and pineapple.

Snack on handfuls of unsalted raw almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios and pecans. Or make your own high-fibre trail mix by mixing nuts with raisins and goji berries. 

"For the more savoury options, pour a small serving of peanuts cooked in coconut oil, as they can be quite addictive and are high in calories," Connor says.

Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a natural pick-me-up, perhaps due to the caffeine it contains, but don't use this as an excuse to overindulge. Like anything dessert-worthy, consume in moderation during the early hours and keep it to two pieces.

Alcohol

"The amount of alcohol that a person can tolerate is individual, but it's recommended that men have no more than two drinks per hour and women no more than one-and-a-half drinks per hour," Connor says. 

"Mixing [in] non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night has many health benefits and having at least two alcohol-free nights a week is optimal," she says. 

"Finally, drinking water throughout the day, and an extra glass for each drink of alcohol consumed, will help maintain hydration for good health."

Extra hacks

Eat healthier in your day

"Have a healthier breakfast and lunch on the days you know you'll stay up late and snack," Bell says.

"If you usually have dinner around 6 or 7pm you may want to move it to 9pm, knowing that you're going to be snacking later on. This way you'll possibly snack less and won't essentially be having a second dinner."

But don't skip meals in favour of snacking - instead, try to eat when hungry.

"Therefore, if you're hungry at your usual dinner time then eat dinner, perhaps a smaller portion compared to normal, because if you skip dinner or any meal when you're hungry it's more likely you'll overeat snacks," Connor says.  

On a night when you're up late watching a game, drinking and snacking, the best dinner option is one with plenty of vegies and salad, and a serve of protein with healthy fats, Connor says.

"Most snacks are high carbohydrate, including alcohol, therefore leaving carbs out [of] dinner will balance your intake," she says.

Refrain from eating anything at least two hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion.

Watch mindfully

Be aware of fast-food commercials that can trigger cravings for burgers and other takeaway food.

"If food ads make you hungry, don't watch them," Connor says.

"It's about willpower ... walk away when the ads are on and if you're feeling the craving ask yourself if it's something you really and truly want.

"If it is, and you reach for your phone to order home delivery, then just allow yourself to have it guilt-free."

When it comes to fast food generally, try to avoid relying on takeaway as much as possible.

"Once a week is plenty and think about saving these temptations for during the finals if you want to celebrate in that way," Connor says.