Dinner is over and you’re getting ready for bed—but your stomach is wide awake. While health experts often advise avoiding late night snacking entirely, if you’re genuinely hungry late in the evening you shouldn’t feel like your only option is to tough it out until morning. Choosing a light and nutritious snack can satisfy your appetite and keep you from overdoing it on the box of cookies when you tell yourself you’ll eat just one. Next time your stomach growls before bed, try one of these healthy and satisfying snacks to take the edge off your hunger.
Cottage cheese or yogurt: If you’re craving something cool and creamy before bed, try to resist the ice cream and have a cup of yogurt or cottage cheese. Both of these foods are high in protein and calcium, a mineral shown to produce a more restful sleep. And be sure to choose ones with live active cultures to help improve your digestive health and strengthen your immune system.
Grapes: If you’re looking for a finger food to snack on late at night, grapes are a healthy and hydrating option. Made of 82 percent water, a serving of grapes provides 1/3 cup of water – which is why they work great as a frozen treat as well. A heart-healthy snack, grapes are a natural source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds). The fact that they are good for you, in addition to being a highly enjoyable late night snack, is a bonus.
Popcorn: Instead of reaching for a bag of greasy chips, try popcorn – it’s the only snack food that’s 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that popcorn eaters get 250 percent more whole grains in their diet than people who don’t eat popcorn. Plus for a 100-calorie snack you can have three cups of air-popped popcorn or 10 greasy potato chips, and who eats just 10?
Pistachios: If you like your snacks on the savory side, try reaching for some pistachios before bed. If you’re hungry, snacking on pistachios gives you an advantage over other nuts, as you get more nuts per ounce. You get 49 pistachios in a one-ounce serving, which has 160 calories. Plus research shows that snacking on pistachios compared to other common snack foods like pretzels leads to more weight loss and greater reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors. For a more mindful snack, choose in-shell pistachios as the shells can help slow you down so you don’t overdo it before bed.
Fried egg sandwich: If you want something comforting and a bit more substantial before bed, a fried egg sandwich fits the bill. Use just a little bit of olive oil for your egg, and serve on one piece of whole-grain toast for a quick snack with more than 10 grams protein and only about 200 calories. Plus, studies suggest that eggs can play a role in weight management, muscle strength, healthy pregnancy, brain function, eye health and more.
Herbal Teas: If you’re feeling peckish before bed but don’t want to eat much, try having a mug of herbal tea to see if it hits the spot. Chamomile is a classic choice, but there are also dessert-like flavors -- such chocolate mint, coconut cake, or caramel vanilla -- that might help you quiet your late-night cravings. Since herbal teas are caffeine-free they are ideal for sipping before bed, but there are also decaf versions of most black and green teas available. Take your time at your grocery store or specialty tea shop to find some interesting options to keep on hand.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.