Should you eat carbs at night? The answer isn’t a simple one, but avoiding carbohydrates after a certain hour of the day is not a magic trick to losing weight or avoiding weight gain. Keep reading to learn why.
It’s the type and amount of carbohydrates you eat that matters most: Highly refined carbohydrates, like foods made from refined wheat flour, white pasta, cakes/cookies, etc., do provide energy for your brain and muscles but that energy burn quickly and these foods can raise blood sugar more quickly and increase your triglycerides, a marker for increasing heart disease. On the other hand, high fiber, minimally processed carbs such as cooked whole grains, foods made with whole grain flour (whole wheat pasta and bread), starchy vegetables, and fruit create a slower release of sugar into your bloodstream, make you feel more full and satisfied, and therefore help more naturally control your overall calorie intake. Basically, choosing to eat refined carbohydrate sources prior to a certain time of night would be more detrimental for your weight than eating healthful sources of carbohydrates spaced evenly throughout the day, even if it ends up being later. Finally, the type of carbohydrates that people often reach for after dinner tend to be higher in sugar and/or calories (think desserts, chips, etc.). For that reason, giving yourself a limit on these foods at night might help you control weight better. But again, this limit would be on the amount rather than the time you eat them.
It’s all about balance: Balancing each meal and snack with the right ratio of healthy carbohydrate sources, along with protein and fat, will not only help you stay within your appropriate intake for the day (the real factor when it comes to weight), but will help you feel your best and have the highest energy levels. When it comes to carbs, make 1/4 of your overall meal some type of healthy high-fiber carbohydrate. As with any food/nutrient, too much can definitely add excess calories and will impact weight. A good rule of thumb is to keep your carb portion size to about the size of your fist, which (depending on the person) is about 3/4 cup to 1 cup.
Skipping carbs at night might make you crave them more: Making a specific food “off limits” has the potential to create a pre-occupation with that food and a less healthy relationship with food in general. If you’re skipping carbs after a certain hour, or skipping them all together with dinner, you may crave them more and seek out less healthful versions in the future.
When you sleep, your metabolism doesn’t: The no-carbs-at-night myth stems largely from the belief that if you eat carbs at night, when your body is moving more slowly, you won’t burn them as well and they’ll be stored as fat. It’s true that the rate at which you burn energy (calories) slows slightly at night, but it’s minimal. In fact, while your metabolism slows down during some points of sleep, it actually increases during different stages of sleep. Moreover, if you are active during the day, your metabolism will be positively affected even while you sleep. So, you don’t have to be concerned with your body automatically storing carbohydrates just because you are going to sleep. Your metabolism is always working.
In the end, your total calorie intake for the day, and even an average for the week, has more of an impact on your weight than the timing of when you eat certain nutrient.