We’ve all heard the question over and over: is it bad to eat carbs at night? And because we know you’re dying to hear a straight answer, we’ll oblige. Is it bad to eat carbs at night? No, not really. But it is a bit more complicated that that. Here’s why:
Carbohydrates are organic compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. However, many people associate carbohydrates with comfort foods, guilty pleasures and, ultimately, weight gain. But carbs, specifically complex carbohydrates, are an intricate part of a healthy diet as they are the main source of energy for the body. Carbs’ reputation has gone on a rollercoaster ride in recent years, with some health experts putting them on a pedestal and then knocking them off when new information surfaces.
The Difference Between Complex Carbs & Simple Carbs
What’s key to remember is that not all carbs are equal: namely there are complex carbs and simple carbs. Complex carbs are full of fiber, absorbed slowly in the body and don’t spike blood sugar levels. Examples of these are beans, whole grains and veggies. Simple carbs are refined, processed carbs that are null of healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals, are digested quickly and have a high glycemic index which spikes blood sugar and insulin levels after eating them. Examples of these are white pasta, cookies, cereal and white bread. Fruit is considered to be a simple carb, however it is slightly different as it also contains fiber. Therefore the body responds differently and insulin levels do not increase in the same way.
Complex Carbs = Quinoa with Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes | Simple Carbs = White Pasta
Carbohydrates also provide important nutrients the good bacteria in our intestines need to digest food efficiently. Furthermore, the body’s muscles use carbs as the first source of energy, which ensures that protein from our muscles isn’t depleted, which would lead to the body actually eating up its own muscles.
Related: Is Bread Really That Bad For You?
So if we know carbs are essential to the human diet, why would it matter if we ate them at night? There are some reasons experts might warn against it, so let’s tackle them. First off, metabolic rate slows down at night since you are often resting more than throughout the day as you slouch in a chair and turn on the tv, or lay in bed and read a book, and ultimately, get completely horizontal as you sleep. But research has shown that, if you exercise daily, you boost your resting and sleeping rate no matter what!
There is also concern of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. If you consume too many simple carbs at night, this can elevate these levels. However, technically you are “fasting” as you sleep, therefore the levels go down by morning. Bottom line, don’t overdo the simple carbs at night and for sure don’t skip them in the morning.
Even research has debunked this “no carbs at night” theory. One study, published in the journal Obesity, discovered that, even when putting people on a low-calorie diet for six months, with one group eating carbs throughout the day and the other eating most of theirs at night, the latter group actually lost more weight and body fat than the former group. Now that’s not to say you should rely on packaged pasta for the rest of your nightly meals, but it does mean that you don’t have to only eat protein and veggies in the evening if you want to stay slim and trim.
The Nighttime “Problem”
So while eating carbs at night isn’t off limits, just remember not to go overboard. That means ensuring your meals are well-balanced, with plenty of veggies, protein and healthy fats. It’s important to note that nighttime munchies often come on before bed if you eat earlier in the night, and can cause you to hang out in the kitchen. This often leads to vulnerability and downing leftovers, bread, cookies and more which are not going to do you any good. Opting for healthy carbs at dinner time that are packed with plenty of protein will ward off hunger later. But should you need a little more in your belly before bedtime, keep it small and avoid high-calorie, high-carb addictive foods. A proper nighttime snack should be around 200 calories and have complex carbs and protein. Try an apple with peanut butter, fruit and nuts, or Greek yogurt with fruit. Have a sweet tooth? Opt for a square of dark chocolate. You can also try sipping on some tea and adding honey.