11 Healthy Late-Night Snacks Nutritionists Actually Recommend
The occasional midnight snack is no biggie and likely won't lead to weight gain especially if you choose one of these healthy, creative, and well-balanced late-night snacks that nutritionists actually recommend.
Should you snack at night?
It’s just past midnight, your stomach is growling, and your mind wanders to your pantry. Should you give in to your craving? That depends.
Late-night or midnight snacking isn’t usually a great idea—especially if you are intermittent fasting—but sometimes you need a little something to tide you over until breakfast. And that’s OK if you make a healthy choice, says Robin Foroutan, RDN, an integrative medicine dietitian at the Morrison Center in New York City and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“If you know you’re not going to sleep because you’re hungry, then having a snack might be a good idea,” she says. “It can also be a good idea for those whose blood sugar dips too low during the night.”
But if nighttime snacking is becoming the rule and not the exception, take a closer look at your eating habits and food choices during the day, she says.
If you crave the occasional midnight munchie, you are not alone; there’s even a cottage industry that now caters to late-night snackers with “sleep-friendly” treats that contain ingredients known to promote sleep and relaxation.
From sweet to savory and everything in between, here are 11 healthy late-night snacks nutritionists actually recommend.
A tall glass of low-fat milk
This may sound like a snore, and that’s kind of the point, says Eshani Ewing, RD, a registered dietitian at Orlando Health, in Orlando, Florida. “Milk is rich in an amino acid called tryptophan that helps produce melatonin and serotonin, which ultimately helps you sleep,” she explains.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that tells your body it’s time for bed. The mood chemical serotonin soothes the anxiety that may get in the way of a good night’s sleep. Milk is also high in protein which keeps you feeling fuller longer, says Ewing.
String cheese paired with whole grain crackers
This is a satisfying midnight snack, says Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, assistant professor, clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Cheese is high in protein, and whole grain crackers are high in fiber, both keep you feeling full longer.”
A cheese stick has about 80 calories and five Triscuits, for example, have about 110. Late-night snacks should be 200 calories or less, Sandon says.
Keeping calories low and choosing healthy foods can help prevent weight gain. Another spin on this midnight snack is a slice of whole grain toast with a spread of part-skim ricotta and a drizzle of honey, or two rice cakes topped with a slice of cheese or mashed avocado, suggests New York City dietitian Joy Bauer, author of Joy Bauer’s Superfood! 150 Recipes for Eternal Youth. Avocados are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which cool inflammation and can keep you feeling sated.
A handful of nuts
Eating around 10 to 12 almonds, peanuts, cashews, or walnuts is a great way to take the edge off pre-bedtime hunger, says Ania M. Jastreboff, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, endocrinology, and metabolism and director of Weight Management and Obesity Prevention, at Yale University School of Medicine. Nuts are rich in good-for-you fats, protein, and fiber, all of which promote feelings of satiety. Don’t feel like counting? Nuts are available in 100-calorie packs which do the counting for you.
An apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
This can be a great midnight snack if you have a sweet tooth, says Bauer. Peanut butter is high in protein and healthy fats to keep you feeling full. “The key is to make sure your late-night snack is balanced,” Ewing adds. “A carb like an apple or a banana should always be paired with a protein like nuts or nut butter.”
DIY pumpkin pudding
This treat is tasty, satisfying, and easy to make, Bauer says. “Mix 6 ounces of vanilla yogurt with 1/3 cup pumpkin puree and a dash of cinnamon,” she says. Yogurt contains protein, and pumpkin puree is rich in a wide range of vitamins and minerals, she says. You’ll feel full after this fun and festive fall treat.
Craving savory instead of sweet? Try this healthy late-night snack: 3 ounces of sliced turkey rolled around red bell pepper sticks and dunked in hot sauce or mustard, says Bauer. Not only is turkey a good source of protein, it also contains tryptophan, which produces sleep-promoting serotonin and melatonin, she adds.
Green soybeans or edamame beans are low in calories and high in protein, Bauer says. “Sprinkle one cup of steamed edamame with salt, cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes for a savory midnight snack.”
Three cups of air-popped popcorn with no oil makes for a great midnight snack, Sandon says. “You get a lot of popcorn for very little calories, plus a lot of fiber,” she says. Just make sure it’s not doused in artery-clogging butter like you get at movie theaters. Instead, spice it up by misting the popcorn with oil and sprinkling with one or two tablespoons of parmesan cheese, Bauer suggests.
Besides being a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, pistachios are loaded with sleep-promoting melatonin, Ewing says. “A handful has 6.5 mg of melatonin and most melatonin supplements contain .5 to 5 grams, so this is a much better way to get melatonin naturally.”
Another great source of melatonin? Tart cherries. Pair them with pistachios or another type of nut for a well-balanced healthy late-night snack, suggests Ewing.
A one-quarter cup of hummus, which is made with protein-rich garbanzo beans, plus veggies or unsalted pretzels is another great example of a balanced and healthy midnight snack, Ewing says. “This will keep your blood sugar levels stable and leave you feeling full and satisfied.” Watching your portion size is a good way to keep calories low and stave off potential weight gain.
A mug of herbal tea
Herbal, caffeine-free teas come in assorted flavors—honey-vanilla, peppermint, sweet cinnamon spice, and hazelnut—and can soothe a sweet tooth, Dr. Jastreboff says. “Adding a splash of milk will make it more satisfying,” she adds.
Late-night snacks to skip
There are some snacks to avoid before bed. “Eating late can affect the quality of sleep, especially if you eat things that cause reflux or heartburn,” Dr. Jastreboff says. And eating too much can lead to bloat or gassiness, which also get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Skip the chocolate too, she says. Chocolate has caffeine which can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Chips and cookies can also cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, she says. This can interfere with your sleep.
Another nighttime no-no? A nightcap. “Avoid alcohol at least two hours before bedtime as it interferes with sleep,” says Ewing.
- Robin Foroutan, RDN, an integrative medicine dietitian at the Morrison Center in New York City and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Eshani Ewing, RD, registered dietitian, Orlando Health, Florida
- Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
- Joy Bauer, New York-based dietitian, author of several books, including Joy Bauer's Superfood!: 150 Recipes for Eternal Youth
- Ania M. Jastreboff, MD, PhD, associate professor, medicine, endocrinology & metabolism and Director, Weight Management and Obesity Prevention, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.
- American Heart Association: "Popcorn as a snack: Healthy hit or dietary horror show?"
- USDA FoodData Central: "String cheese"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Crackers, woven wheat, plan (Triscuit)"