4 ways late-night meals ruin your health

I’ve been thinking about my trip to Italy a few years ago.

I met some wonderful people who invited me to huge, leisurely lunches that would start around noon, last for several hours and were followed by a pisolino, the Italian version of a siesta.

During the several months we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve very purposefully made my eating habits more “Italian.”

I cook my “dinner” around midday and eat a small sandwich or snack in the evening.

Turns out, the Italians are on to something…

Studies show that eating a late dinner can have some long-term negative consequences for your health.

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Late eating makes obesity and diabetes more likely

According to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, eating a late dinner may contribute to weight gain and high blood sugar.

The Johns Hopkins University researchers studied 10 men and 10 women, all of whom were healthy, to see how they metabolized a meal eaten after 10 p.m., compared to the same meal eaten at 6 p.m.

After the later meal, blood sugar levels were higher, and the amount of fat from the meal that was burned was lower.

Dr. Chenjuan Gu of Johns Hopkins, the lead author of the study observed that, “On average, the peak glucose level after late dinner was about 18 percent higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by about 10 percent compared to eating an earlier dinner.”

And according to his scientific partner, Jonathan C. Jun, M.D., also of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “If the metabolic effects we observed with a single meal keep occurring chronically, then late eating could lead to consequences such as diabetes or obesity.”

In other words, if eating late at night is a consistent habit, it could be opening the door to obesity and diabetes.

And the researchers noted that for people whose metabolism is already compromised by obesity or diabetes, it could be even worse.

3 more reasons to avoid late-night meals

Besides the risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes, there are at least three other reasons to eat your biggest meal during the afternoon and to avoid heavy late-night eating.

Late-night eating affects memory. Eating at odd hours affects the normal circadian system of the body, which in turn lowers the brain’s ability to learn, concentrate and memorize.

Christopher Colwell is a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Professor Colwell and his team worked with two groups of mice. One group was allowed to eat at their normal time. The other could only eat during their normal sleep time.

After a few weeks, the mice were given learning tests, for example, learning to associate a tone with a shock. The mice in the second group had more trouble remembering what they’d learned and showed changes in their brains’ hippocampus, involved with learning and memory.

Late-night eating causes acid reflux. When you leave less than four hours between your last meal and bedtime, your lower esophageal sphincter remains open, and undigested foods and stomach acid travel back up the esophagus. Your system needs enough time for the stomach to clear and remain acid-free while you sleep.

Late-night eating can make you really hungry in the morning. Daytime eaters have a peak in their hunger hormone, ghrelin, earlier in the day, while late eaters see this hormone peak later at night, often causing you to feel excessively hungry in the morning, especially if you wake up early. So, you might overeat in the morning, compounding the negative metabolic effects of your late-night supper habit.

But what if I’m working late?

If you’re up late or get home from a late shift at work and are truly hungry, by all means, eat. But skip the junk and eat one of these foods instead:

  • Half an apple
  • A piece of grilled chicken
  • A couple of crackers with a tablespoon of hummus
  • Half a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter
  • Handful of nuts
  • A hard-boiled egg
  • Mashed up avocado on crispbread
  • A small bowl of chopped up fruit like papaya or melon with cottage cheese
  • A nutrient-rich powdered protein or greens powder drink mixed with water or juice

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  1. Misaligned feeding impairs memories  — eLife
  2. 7 Reasons Why Eating Late At Night is Bad For You — Pain Assist
  3. Why Eating Late At Night Is Bad For You & How To Avoid It — Sepalika
  4. The effects of eating late at night — Livestrong
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.