July 18, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Nighttime Snacking/Digestion

My mom believes that eating right before bed is unhealthy and causes weight gain.

I don't believe that it causes weight gain because as you stress, what matters is how many calories are consumed [in one day], not when [you eat them].

But, is [eating right before bed] unhealthy? My mom thinks [so, because she says] our digestive system needs to "sleep".

I always "need" to snack before bed (I think it's more of a psychological thing), but keep my portions in check.

She seems to think that fruit is "lighter" as opposed to bread which is "heavier" and harder on our bodies. Is it okay for me to have "heavy" foods like bread/cereal before I sleep as long as its within my caloric needs?

-- (Name Withheld)
Kaoshiung, Taiwan

One issue that can occur if you go to bed soon after eating is acid reflux, or heartburn (a condition in which stomach acid creeps up into the esophagus).

Other than that, there isn't anything inherently unhealthy about having a slice of bread or a bowl of cereal an hour or so before going to bed as long as it isn’t a caloric overload.

Heavy foods should be avoided before going to bed so as to not cause indigestion, so either fruit or cereal are smart options. I do not consider cereal or bread to be heavy, especially not if you’re just having a cup of a whole grain cereal low in added sugar.

Keep in mind that even though we go to sleep, our organs do not.

Full digestion of a meal, for instance, takes anywhere from 18 to 48 hours. So, our digestive tract works all day, every day.

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