12 Foods Nutritionists Never Eat Late at Night
If you can't get through late-night TV without munching on something, you should definitely avoid these choices.
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We all remember a youthful night or two (or ten) fueled by energy drinks, pizza, and cookies. But it wasn’t good for us then, and it’s even worse now. In fact, when you eat can be as important as what—and if you make poor food choices late at night, you can do even more damage to your health. We surveyed registered dietitians across the country to find out what they never, ever eat before turning in.
“Sleep is so important to our overall wellness, so I definitely try to avoid habits that will interfere with quality sleep!” says Caroline West Passerrello, a registered dietitian and owner of Caroline West, LLC. “To that end, I rarely eat fried foods and never eat them a few hours before bed. The high-fat content will keep your body focused more on digestion than sleep, and it may also lead to heartburn or reflux if you are prone to either.” Instead, you’ll want to try these bedtime snacks that help you sleep better.
Sure, a glass of wine will mellow you out—it is a depressant. But booze has been shown to decrease rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and that interferes with your sleep quality so that you wake up feeling less rested, warns Libby Mills, a registered dietitian and culinary nutrition consultant in Philadelphia. Additionally, research in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine found a link between binge drinking and insomnia.
It’s zero calories and soothing—what’s not to love? But black, green, and white teas—as well as chai—all contain caffeine. Even if you stick to an herbal tea like chamomile, you have to make sure not to add sweeteners—they contribute to cavities—or lemon, which has diuretic properties. “A brew of herb water and a diuretic—no matter how slight—adds up to an undesirable journey to the bathroom sometime in the night,” says Mills. Before you ask: This is why decaf coffee isn’t a great idea before bed either.
It’s the classic movie-watching snack, but even when you hold the extra butter, there’s a good reason to savor this whole-grain snack earlier in the day: salt. “Before bed, I don’t eat anything too salty because it will make me thirsty in the night,” says Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Salted nuts and MSG-laden food can have a similar effect. Try one of these late-night snacks nutritionists actually recommend instead.
Ice cream is full of fat, which can trigger indigestion and reflux, but that’s not why Petitpain resists this tempting dairy treat. “I avoid foods that I’m likely to overeat so I don’t go to bed overfull,” she says. Cottage cheese may not be a real substitute for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but 2018 research in the British Journal of Nutrition found that scarfing 30 grams (a little more than one ounce) of cottage cheese 30 minutes before bed may benefit your metabolism and overall health. Try this other trick for putting a stop to nighttime stress-eating.
These are the trifecta of greasy, fatty, and salty—things that increase your odds of heartburn and getting up in the night for a drink. They’re also tougher for your body to digest, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
In numerous studies, researchers have found that the smell of peppermint boosts alertness by activating key areas of the brain. Eating a peppermint at night, or even brushing your teeth with peppermint toothpaste, will be waking you up when you need to be slowing down. Also, mints frequently have sugar in them, says Taub-Dix. If you want to hit the pillow with fresh breath, brush your teeth with a non-minty toothpaste. Learn about 11 other “harmless” habits that cause insomnia.
It’s cozy and comforting, and practically identical to a warm glass of milk—right? Milk delivers tryptophan which boosts relaxing neurotransmitters like serotonin, helping you wind down for the day. But people tend to forget that chocolate contains caffeine, and that can fire you up, says Angel Planells, a registered dietitian in Seattle, Washington.
For some reason, Buffalo wings just taste better at 11 p.m. The issue is that spicy foods are a top cause of GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease—a chronic condition that affects 20 percent of the American population. Laying down soon after eating very spicy dishes or other GERD triggers such as fatty or greasy foods can make your symptoms worse, says Planells. You won’t want to miss these other foods sleep doctors say you should never eat before bed.
There’s nothing like a late-night pizza delivery, but it’s just another greasy, high-fat food with the potential to bog down your digestive system and trigger heartburn. “The goal is to feel relaxed prior to bed, and you may struggle to get to sleep if your body is trying to digest a very complex meal,” says Planells.
It’s oh-so-convenient, and carby goodness at your fingertips is hard to resist. But cereal is notoriously sweet—according to one report, 92 percent contained added sugar, and the average cold breakfast cereal marketed to adults was 18 percent sugar by weight. Along with all the other reasons it’s bad for your health, all that sugar will spike your blood glucose and boost your energy—something you don’t want happening right before bed. And decreased calorie needs at night means that blood sugar will be converted to fat. Cut down on these other eating habits that are bad for your sleep.
Fizzy drinks keep you full on zero calories, but all those bubbles can contribute to indigestion and keep you tossing and turning, warns Leah Kaufman, a New York City-based nutritionist. The fizz can also be hard on your tooth enamel. Stick with regular water—but not too much—before bedtime. No matter what time of day it is, you’ll want to avoid these 50 foods nutritionists never eat.
- Caroline West Passerrello, RD, owner of Caroline West, LLC
- Libby Mills, RD, a culinary nutrition consultant in Philadelphia
- Korean Journal of Family Medicine: "The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep"
- Debbie Petitpain, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Pre-sleep protein in casein supplement or whole-food form has no impact on resting energy expenditure or hunger in women"
- Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
- Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: "Instant effects of peppermint essential oil on the physiological parameters and exercise performance"
- Angel Planells, an RD in Seattle, Washington
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for GER & GERD"
- Environmental Working Group: "CHILDREN'S CEREALS: CEREALS CONTAIN FAR MORE SUGAR THAN EXPERTS RECOMMEND"
- Leah Kaufman, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist