Breakfast was at 8, lunch blew past you at noon, and dinner was unsatisfying at 6. Alas, it’s bedtime and that monster in your gut is gurgling feed me in a full-blown snack attack. What’s a calorie-counting guy or gal to do — without breaking the calorie bank?
For one, don’t judge yourself. Hunger happens, sometimes even after you’ve brushed your teeth. A late-night snack can actually help you sleep, balancing out digestion and hormones to help your body relax and rest. When it comes to late-night snacking, moderation is key. Digestion slows down at slumber time, so too much of anything — even a good thing — can make you uncomfortable or disrupt your digestion.
Before you venture forth into an all-out bunny slipper buffet, take a pause and learn how to snack responsibly. We’re here to spoon-feed you some delicious, satisfying, low-calorie, late-night bites to tame the hungry beast within.
One of our favorites is a hot cup of bouillon or broth (about 50 calories) or Thai tom yum soup made from paste (50–100 calories for 1–2 tablespoons of paste stirred into a mug of hot water). We’ve noticed warm food feels more filling than cold, and the volume of the liquid tricks your stomach into thinking it has ingested something hearty.
A FEW CARBS
Carbohydrates are often praised for their ability to help us sleep in small doses; they help increase the level of tryptophan in the blood, a hormone that helps us count the zzz’s. There’s a slice of whole-grain toast, of course. Or there’s popcorn with around 30 calories per popped cup. Pop it in the microwave and add a rounded teaspoon of olive oil for another 50 calories. And our pal the crunchy pretzel? Just 120 calories for 22 pretzels. Dip them in the yellow mustard of your choice for extra zing. A whole-grain cereal with a half-cup of milk can have as little as 160 calories — just be sure to read the label before you pour.
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
Of course fruits and vegetables are calorie-counting friendly and often full of fiber, making them a great late-night choice to sate your snacking. The classics should not be messed with: a stalk of celery stuffed with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice) hovers around 110 calories. A cut-up apple beneath a scant sprinkling of granola or hot cocoa mix really satisfies a sweet tooth without tipping the scales (and it’s less than 110 calories!) Feeling like some late-night kitchen wizardry? Squeeze a lemon over a diced carrot, celery stalk and apple; add two tablespoons of diced walnuts. You’ll have a stunning faux-Waldorf salad for less than 200 calories. Take that, hunger!
A BIT OF DAIRY
While bedtime is not protein power-boost time, a little bit of dairy can go a long way in helping you feel full enough to count some sheep. A half of a banana sliced into a cup of plain yogurt, or 1/2 cup of blueberries spooned into a cup of cottage cheese all truly satisfy for less than 200 calories. Or, beat hunger-induced insomnia with a stick of string cheese — meditatively peeling one string at a time — at just 80 late-night calories.
However you crunch the numbers, embrace a sensible choice in the late-night snack of your dreams.
Written by Karen Solomon, the author of Asian Pickles; Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It; and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It (Ten Speed Press/Random House). Her writing and recipes have appeared on Saveur.com, in Fine Cooking, Prevention, Men’s Health, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Yoga Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle.