13 Healthy Late-Night Snacks Recommended By Nutrition Experts
Let's face it: Late-night snacks get a bad rap, but sometimes, they're simply necessary. Maybe you work irregular hours or ate dinner earlier than usual. Or perhaps you had a busy day and weren't able to eat a satisfying evening meal. (Hey, it happens to the best of folks.) Even being more active than usual can amp up your appetite, resulting in seemingly random nighttime cravings.
Whatever the reason for your midnight munchies, it's essential to quell your hunger before hitting the hay. After all, hunger pangs can make it hard to sleep, not to mention cause extreme hanger come morning. Plus, you shouldn't deny yourself nourishment, no matter the hour. (Related: Is Eating Before Bed Actually Unhealthy?)
At the same time, if you must eat in the eve, it's worth choosing foods that actually support quality sleep. This includes snacks with nutrients such as fiber, healthy fats, and lean protein, all of which will keep your belly full and happy until the morning. It also involves choosing natural sources of melatonin (aka the sleep hormone) or, in some cases, compounds that turn into melatonin.
So, what are those eats, exactly? From packaged products to DIY dishes, here are some of the best healthy late-night snacks to satisfy any craving (and still help you get some sleep).
13 Healthy Late-Night Snacks Recommended By Pros
If you're craving a sweet bedtime treat, reach for a kiwi or two, as the little green fruit is full of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps manage mood and sleep-wake cycle, according to registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D. In the body, serotonin "gets converted into melatonin, the hormone that makes you drowsy," says Cassetty. They also happen to be rich in fiber, meaning that they're excellent for promoting satiety — a particularly useful perk if you're looking to stop any rumblin' and grumblin' in your stomach that might be keeping you awake. (See also: Why You Should Be Eating More Kiwis, Skin and All)
For a crunchy, satisfying, and healthy late-night snack, chow down on nuts of your choice. "Nuts contain the minerals magnesium and zinc, [which] can boost melatonin levels," explains Kiran Campbell, R.D.N. And yes, this can include all types of nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, says Campbell. But if you really want to reap the bedtime benefits provided by this type of munchie, pick up some pistachios, as they're particularly rich in melatonin. In fact, research suggests that 1 ounce (28 grams) of shelled pistachios has about 6.5 milligrams of melatonin. Additionally, the nuts contain healthy unsaturated fats, which "help tell the brain we aren't hungry," says Bess Berger, R.D.N., C.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition by Bess.
Keep in mind, though, that the nutritional value of nuts can vary depending on the way in which the nuts are processed. For example, in general, nuts that are raw, dry-roasted, or unsalted contain less added fat and sodium than those that are salted or oil-roasted, according to the Cleveland Clinic. As for serving size? The American Heart Association recommends sticking to a small handful or 1.5 ounces of whole nuts. Alternatively, "if you don't want to think about [the exact serving], buy 100-calorie packs of unsalted nuts," suggests Berger. Try: Blue Diamond 100-Calorie Travel Bags of Almonds (Buy It, $15 for 32 bags, amazon.com).
For a packaged option that's ready to eat, dig into a cup of yogurt — ideally, plain yogurt to avoid added sugars — because "yogurt is a source of tryptophan, [an amino acid] that can help promote sleep," says Marissa Meshulam, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of MPM Nutrition. How so? Well, tryptophan turns into serotonin in the body, according to the National Center of Biotechnology Information. Serotonin, as mentioned earlier, converts into melatonin, aka the sleep-promoting hormone. "Yogurt also has a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, [which will help] keep blood sugar stable," adds Chris Henigan, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., registered dietitian and co-founder of Simple Start Nutrition. This is key because high blood sugar levels can make it difficult to snooze.
Banana and Nut Butter
This combo is a super popular recommendation among the nutrition pros interviewed — and for good reason. "Bananas contain vitamin B6, tryptophan, and melatonin," explains registered dietitian Meghan Pendleton, R.D. Vitamin B6 supports the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, which, in turn, converts into melatonin, she adds. "Bananas also contain potassium and magnesium, which may help prevent nighttime muscle cramping and calm nerve activity." These effects can help relax the body, paving the way for better z's. Meanwhile, the nut butter offers healthy unsaturated fats (think: omega-3 fatty acids), which will keep you satiated and full. To prepare this snack, you'll need one banana and 1 tablespoon of nut butter, says Henigan. You can eat 'em separately or smear the nut butter onto the peeled banana, then cut and enjoy. (Related: Everything You Need (and Want) to Know About Nut Butter)
Crackers with Cheese and Turkey Deli Meat
For a healthy late-night snack, grab a handful of crackers with cheese and turkey deli meat, suggests Charmaine Jones, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Food Jonezi. The cheese and turkey offer tryptophan, but combining them with carbs will boost serotonin/melatonin production even further, says Jones. Turkey is also a type of lean meat, meaning it contains less fat than other cuts of meat, according to registered dietitian Elysia Cartlidge, R.D.N. This is noteworthy because "higher fat options can negatively impact your digestive system, thereby disrupting your sleep," she explains. Also, when possible, opt for low-sodium turkey, as eating too much sodium over time can lead to high blood pressure (aka a major risk factor for heart disease).
Vegetables with Hummus
Another healthy late-night snack for curing the nighttime munchies is veggies with hummus, such as PEARLS Classic Organic Hummus (Buy It, $10 for four cups, amazon.com). Specifically, Berger recommends pairing a handful of your favorite vegetables with 2 tablespoons of hummus for a delicious dose of satiating fiber, fats, and carbs. Just be careful not to chow down on too many cruciferous veggies, in particular, as their high fiber content can leave you feeling gassy and bloated — two (uncomfortable) sensations that can make drifting off to dreamland difficult. (See also: Is Hummus a Good Source of Protein?)
"Popcorn is a whole grain, meaning it will give you complex carbohydrates that provide nourishing and satiating fiber," explains Pendleton. Plus, whole grains encourage insulin production that results in tryptophan activity in the brain, according to the American Sleep Association. Meaning, a handful of, say, Angie's BOOMCHIKAPOP Light Kettle Corn Popcorn (Buy It, $40 for 12 bags, amazon.com) can not only satisfy that hankering for a midnight munchie but also set you up for a night's worth of restful Zzz's.
If plain popcorn isn't enough to satisfy your taste buds, Jones suggests mixing 3 cups of plain popcorn with 1/4 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 cup roasted walnuts or pecans. "This popcorn trail mix is a good source of protein and fiber," she says, which will promote satiety and prevent blood sugar spikes, which would otherwise disrupt your sleep.
Although soup isn't a "traditional" snack, it can help you fill you up before bed, says Berger. And this is especially true if you opt for a variety with ample protein and fiber such as chicken soup with vegetables. Naturally, homemade chicken soup is going to be the healthiest, but you can also reach for pre-made packaged options. When choosing soups for your stash, look for products that are lower in sodium, such as Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle Soup (Buy It, $36 for 12 cans, amazon.com), to avoid overdoing it with the salt and upping your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Spend enough time Google-ing "healthy bedtime snacks" and you're sure to find cherries on seemingly every list. Why? Because studies suggest cherries — especially tart cherries — can help you sleep better due largely in part to their high amounts of melatonin and tryptophan. What's more, tart cherry juice has been shown to increase melatonin available in the body, according to the Sleep Foundation. But not all varieties are created equal: If you're looking to stock your fridge with healthy late-night snacks, make sure you're buying sour cultivars such as Richmond, Montmorency, and English morello either raw or as juice. (Read more: The Health Benefits of Cherries Are As Sweet As Summer)
To take this healthy bedtime snack to a whole new level, consider noshing on some nuts, too. Pairing fruit — be it cherries, frozen mango, fresh grapes, or whatever you have on hand — with a handful of nuts fills you up with fiber, carbs, and healthy fats, which "help tell the brain we aren't hungry," says Berger. What's more, "the fruit provides a small dose of sweetness that people often crave after dinner or in the evening," she adds.
Next time you want a healthy snack before bed, consider eating some edamame (soybeans), suggests Kelsey Sackmann, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and founder of Kelsey P. R.D. In addition to being "high in protein and fiber, they contain a compound called isoflavones," explains Sackmann. These compounds have been shown to increase serotonin production, which translates into higher melatonin levels. As a result, not only will you be full and satisfied after eating edamame, but you'll sleep better too, says Sackmann. Need even more proof? A 2015 study found that adults who consumed two more servings of soy per day slept longer and reported better sleep quality, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Whole-Grain Toast and Hummus
For another late-night spin on hummus, try pairing it with whole-grain toast, says registered dietitian Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D. This is an ideal healthy snack before bed because the fiber (from the whole-grain toast) and protein (from the hummus) are deliciously satiating. Fiber is also digested slowly by the body, meaning you'll stay full long enough to slip into a slumber. Still peckish? Hunnes recommends pairing this combo with edamame, which, as noted above, can promote melatonin production.
Whole-Grain Cereal and Milk
Cereal isn't just for breakfast, you guys. Try pairing 1/2 cup multigrain or whole-grain cereal with 1/2 cup milk of your choice, recommends Kelley O'Conner, R.D., L.D.N., C.S.O., a registered dietitian at Kaufman Care Center at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The combo offers fiber from the cereal and protein from the milk, along with sleep-promoting tryptophan. Don't eat dairy? Don't worry; you can make this healthy late-night snack with plant-based alternatives such as soy milk, which can further help you score some shut-eye.
Chamomile Tea and Eggs
This healthy bedtime snack boasts plenty of perks: It's filling, satiating, and (thanks to the chamomile tea) totally soothing. "Chamomile [tea] contains the antioxidant apigenin, which can induce relaxation and sleep," says Campbell. Meanwhile, "eggs contain the drowsiness-inducing amino tryptophan." Campbell recommends pairing the beverage with a poached egg (or two), but you can also scramble or hard-boil if preferred.