TIME You Asked

You Asked: Will Eating Before Bed Make Me Fat?

What to eat at night
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You’ve been told eating before bed is a no-no. But a little pre-slumber snack can help you sleep more soundly without packing on pounds—if you reach for the right foods.

Especially if you tend to eat dinner a few hours before bedtime or you’re very active (or both), snacking before bed will help stabilize your blood sugar levels during the long, meal-less night, explains Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Why should you care about blood sugar? As most diabetics know, blood sugar and its attendant hormones can supercharge or deflate your appetite and energy levels, as well as mess with your body’s efforts to store or burn fat. “Having low blood sugar in the morning will cause a person to feel sluggish and make it more difficult to get out of bed,” Maxson explains, adding that low blood sugar could also wake you up or otherwise disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night.

Ideally, you want to encourage stable blood sugar levels for optimal health, which will be tough to do if you’re going 10 or 12 or 14 hours without eating, Maxson says. (This is one reason she and many other nutrition experts underscore the importance of eating breakfast.)

“It’s such a big myth that you don’t need any energy for sleep,” adds Cassie Bjork, a registered dietician and founder of HealthySimpleLife.com. Not only can the right bedtime snack provide the fuel your body needs to burn calories while you sleep, but a little grub also calms the release of hunger hormones that tell your body to store fat, Bjork explains.

That said, a pint of ice cream isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, you should be reaching for complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, non-starchy vegetables, popcorn, and fruit, Maxson says. These foods break down slowly, and so help stave off the blood sugar spikes or crashes that could mess with your sleep or appetite, she explains. For athletes, adding a protein like turkey or chicken to a bedtime snack can help with muscle repair during the night while also providing a hit of an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which is beneficial for sleep, Maxson says.

And don’t shy away from a little fat, which can further slow the absorption of carbohydrates into your system, Bjork says. Some avocado or peanut butter—or a splash of melted butter on your popcorn—can help if you frequently wake up hungry or tired.

Just be sure to avoid things like chips, cookies, cereal, or pretty much any traditional dessert food, advises Dr. Joan Sabaté, a professor of public health and nutrition at Loma Linda University. Because fiber and other digestion-slowing nutrients are typically stripped away from these foods during their preparation, your body absorbs them quickly and they tend to cause quick spikes in your blood sugar, which can make it tough for your to sleep, Sabaté explains.

Anything featuring caffeine—yes, that includes chocolate—is also a bad idea at bedtime, Maxson says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Eat Umami, Eat Less

Calories count when it comes to weight, but taste may play a role as well.

If you’re feeling unsatisfied after a meal, perhaps wasn’t flavorful enough. A new study suggests that the taste umami may actually make you feel more full and satisfied.

Umami, a hard-to-describe flavor that tilts toward the savory, is considered the “fifth taste” after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Long used in Japanese cooking, umami is actually glutamate, once it’s broken down by cooking a steak, for example, or by fermenting things like cheese and soy. For a quick dash of umami, cooks have turned to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that’s added to soups and other foods. Now a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that MSG can make food more appetizing and therefore help diners feel more full.

The researchers asked 27 participants to eat the same breakfast, then some ate a high-protein soup with an MSG-enzyme combination while other had soup without the pairing. Everyone then sat down for an identical lunch, and the scientists tracked how much the volunteers ate as well as asked them questions about their appetite and how full they felt. The diners who ate the MSG-laced soup consumed less of their lunch, but still say they felt satisfied, suggesting that umami may have a role in regulating eating.

It’s not the first taste linked to appetite — peppers and spicy foods, for example, have been associated with eating less. It’s not exactly clear how the flavors affect appetite — they may work in different ways — but the growing research suggests that how much you eat may be affected by which taste buds the food activates.

TIME

Inside the Changing American Diet

An interactive look at what Americans eat--and how much of it--from 1970 to today.

As Bryan Walsh notes in this week’s magazine, the decades-long vilification of fat has driven people to eat more sugar and carbohydrates, which new research suggests may be the chief drivers of rising obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s a look at how what fills the American plate has evolved over the last 40 years.

Slide the year below to see how consumption patterns have changed. Select each food group to see the changing make up of each over the years.

The data shows that Americans have greatly increased their consumption of poultry in lieu of red meat. In 2004, chicken overtook beef as the most consumed meat in the country. Similarly, dairy products declined markedly in popularity as vegetable and grain consumption increased.

Methodology
Data for food consumption is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database. Figures represent the “loss-adjusted availability” of a given type of food per capita, a measure of how much of that food is available per person. Data for change in rice consumption is unavailable for 2011, 2012, so 2010 figures are used.

TIME health

QUIZ: Should You Eat This or That?

Click through our quiz to see which food is better for you and why. The answers may surprise you.

For decades, fat has been vilified as the worst part of the American diet. Scientists made their case, the government codified it with nutritional guidelines, and industry launched a fat-free food frenzy that hasn’t abated. But in those 40 years, people got sicker—and fatter. The new science shows fat isn’t the reason, and in fact, the nutrient might deserve even more room on our plates.

In this week’s cover story, “Don’t Blame Fat,” TIME debunks misconceptions and mistakes about saturated fat, and reveals how we really should be eating. Given this new knowledge, you might be surprised by what foods you should actually be avoiding. See how much you really know, by clicking on which food you think is healthier.

MORE: Give Frozen Peas a Chance–and Carrots Too

MORE: The Oz Diet

(Note: For our assessments we consulted nutritionists, like registered dietitian Keri Gans, weighed nutritional data from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and used our common sense).

TIME Cancer

Six Diet Guidelines for Preventing Cancer

No food is guaranteed to keep cancer away, but even without conclusive evidence, researchers say it makes sense to follow these guidelines for avoiding major cancers

Sticking with a plant-based diet is a good way to avoid cancer, according to scientists at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which just released six dietary guidelines for cancer prevention, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. More fruits and vegetables, and less alcohol, dairy and processed meats, could lower the risk of cancers in the mouth, lung, breast and colon. Ready for a cancer-fighting diet? Here’s what the group recommends, from its press release:

  1. Limit or avoid dairy products to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Findings: Consuming thirty-five grams of dairy protein each day, the equivalent of one and a half cups of cottage cheese, increases risk of prostate cancer by 32 percent. Drinking two glasses of milk each day increases risk of prostate cancer by 60 percent.

Note: Calcium supplements appear to have the same effect as milk intake. Men who supplement with more than 400 milligrams of calcium per day increase risk for fatal prostate cancer by 51 percent.

 

  1. Limit or avoid alcohol to reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and breast.

Findings: One drink per week increases risk of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancers by 24 percent. Two to three drinks per day increase risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

Note: The alcohol itself (rather than additives) appears to be the cause of cancer, and all types of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) are problematic.

 

  1. Avoid red and processed meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

Findings: Each 50-gram daily serving of processed meat, equivalent to two slices of bacon or one sausage link, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. Each 120-gram daily serving of red meat, equivalent to a small steak, increases risk of colorectal cancer by 28 percent.

Note: The heme iron, nitrites, heterocyclic amines, and overabundance of essential amino acids in red and processed meats are all believed to contribute to cancerous cell growth in the body.

 

  1. Avoid grilled, fried, and broiled meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.

Findings: Four types of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are associated with cancer of the colon and rectum. HCAs form from creatine and amino acids in cooked skeletal muscle, increasing with higher cooking times and higher temperatures. When ingested, HCAs can disrupt DNA synthesis.

Note: In addition to the cancers listed above, HCAs are also associated, to a weaker extent, with cancers of the breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.

 

  1. Consume soy products to reduce risk of breast cancer and to reduce the risk of recurrence and mortality for women previously treated for breast cancer.

Findings: Evidence from Asian and Western countries shows that soy products are associated with reduced cancer risk. Chinese women who consume more than 11.3 grams of soy protein, equivalent to half a cup of cooked soybeans, each day during adolescence have a 43 percent reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, compared with women who consume 1.7 grams. Research in Shanghai shows that women with breast cancer who consume 11 grams of soy protein each day can reduce mortality and risk of recurrence by about 30 percent. U.S. populations show similar findings: the higher the isoflavone intake from soy products, the less risk of mortality and recurrence in women with breast cancer.

Note: When choosing soy products, opt for natural forms, such as edamame, tempeh, or organic tofu, as opposed to soy protein concentrates and isolates, common in powders and pills.

 

  1. Emphasize fruits and vegetables to reduce risk of several common forms of cancer.

Findings: Fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, help reduce overall cancer risk. A high intake of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, is associated with an 18 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer and reduced risk of lung and stomach cancers. Women who consume the most carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, lower their risk of breast cancer by 19 percent. Overall, women who consume the highest quantities of any kind of fruit or vegetable reduce breast cancer risk by 11 percent. A high intake of tomato products has been shown to reduce risk of gastric cancer by 27 percent. Garlic and other allium vegetables, such as onions, significantly reduce risk for gastric cancer, while a Western diet (high amounts of meat and fat with minimal amounts of fruits and vegetables) doubles therisk.

Note: Some components in soybeans, green tea, turmeric, grapes, tomatoes, and other plant foods have the ability to regulate apoptosis (a natural process for destroying unhealthy cells), an important pathway for cancer prevention.

TIME Food & Drink

Zero-Calorie Chocolate Could Soon Become a Reality

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Getty Images

Remember those Listerine mint strips? It would work just like that

First of all, let us say that we stand by any and all studies which suggest that chocolate is even marginally good for you and thus, we support indulging your cravings pretty much whenever. But, if you’re trying to get your fix without all those calories and sugar, then you might be in luck.

Calorie-free chocolate “Cravings” are edible strips that you place on your tongue for chocolate flavor. Remember those Listerine breath strips that were all the rage 10 years ago? Yeah, it’s the same idea. No sugar, no calories — just milk chocolate flavor dissolving on your tongue.

Creator Ian Goldfarb launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project but fell short of his funding goal. His next plan is to seek an equity investor or a bank loan so he can make Cravings a reality. He seems to believe pretty strongly that zero-calorie chocolate could really take off.

“It’s a chocoholic’s dream,” Goldfarb told the New York Daily News.

Is it really, though? Could this really satisfy your chocolate craving like a good old fashioned Hershey’s bar? Probably not, but it could be a good alternative for people who have self-control.

TIME Nutrition

3 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting

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Peter Cade—Getty Images

Cutting back on calories sounds good in theory, but not in practice. Here’s what science says about other tricks to bring weight down

No one needs to be told that if they eat less, they’ll probably weigh less. But if it were that simple, we wouldn’t be staring down a national crisis of overweight and obesity, and those at a healthy weight wouldn’t have a hard time tamping down temptation.

Researchers are building the case for unusual approaches to weight loss and while none of these strategies alone are a bull’s-eye, as anyone who’s tried a diet knows, every little bit helps.

Be mindful.

It’s the latest buzzword in health and wellness because it’s an effective way to direct potentially negative behaviors toward more positive, healthy habits. In a review of 21 studies published in the International Association for the Study of Obesity that used mindfulness-based strategies, most showed that the techniques helped to curb binge eating, emotional eating and over-eating in response to outside cues. For weight purposes, it’s based on non-judgmental ways of analyzing why overweight and obese people eat—whether it’s because of stress or other negative emotions, or because you’re responding unconsciously to cues such as the sight or smell of food.

The mindfulness interventions included things such as figuring out the difference between actually feeling hungry and eating to satisfy emotional needs such as stress, anger or depression. The strategies also helped overweight and obese people to find other outlets, not involving food, for their negative feelings.

MORE: The Mindful Revolution

Slow down.

How you eat can also affect how much you eat, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Scientists analyzed 22 studies in which participants were asked to eat either slowly or more quickly, and found that those who took longer to finish a meal tended to eat less than those who wolfed down their food. That’s not so surprising, but the more encouraging part of the study hinted that getting people to slow down may help them to feel full after eating less. People who changed their eating rate to eat more slowly did not report feeling more hungry up to 3.5 hours later. The researchers admit that most of the participants knew the study involved how eating rates affected hunger so the results might have been biased by their thinking that eating more slowly was better for reducing obesity, but the findings still hint that our bodies may process food differently depending on how quickly it comes in.

Drink…vinegar?

Nausea is a good way to make almost any food unappetizing but it’s not necessarily a healthy strategy for weight control. While a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that adding vinegar to milkshakes had the desired effect – the unpleasant taste was enough to quell any hunger people may have felt, and even made them nauseous – the researchers don’t see such deterrents as being an effective way to control eating, at least on a lasting basis. Studies show that negative reinforcement, such as depriving children of things they really want, like toys and treats, doesn’t help to reshape their behavior to like these things less.

Eating, as all of these studies show, is a complex combination of physical need and psychological reaction. Diets may address the physical part of what goes into the body, but any effective, and lasting weight loss program should address how that food is consumed, and why.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Soda Industry Study Says Drink Diet Soda to Lose Weight

But don't go reaching for those diet soda cans just yet

Numerous studies in recent years have knocked down the notion that diet soda helps shed pounds, but the soda industry wants people to take another sip.

A new industry-backed study has found that diet soda drinkers lose weight faster than those who foreswear soda altogether, CNN reports. The small study, funded in part by the American Beverage Association, divided 300 diet soda drinkers into two groups. One group could go on drinking the sweet stuff, while the other cut out diet soda entirely. The study found that the drinkers, with intensive coaching, lost an average of 13 pounds over 12 weeks, while the abstainers, with the same coaching, lost only 9 pounds.

That four-pound difference, the authors suggest, comes down to a failure of willpower. The abstainers evidently turned to higher caloric sources for their sweet fix, while the drinkers could satisfy their cravings with artificial sweeteners.

“The most likely explanation was that having access to drinks with sweet taste helps the [artificially-sweetened beverage] group to adhere better to the behavioral change program,” concluded study author Dr. Jim Hill of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

In other words, diet soda is healthier, assuming you can’t control your cravings for even more sugary food and drink.

Susan Swithers, a professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Purdue University, noted the study only last 12 weeks, and many researchers think diet sodas actually heighten the desire for real sugar and the likelihood of greater weight gain.

“Doing these short-term studies that look at weight can’t really tell us anything about whether or not these products are contributing to these increased risks,” Swithers told CNN. “And it’s really hard to look at the (long-term) data and come up with any argument that they’re helping.”

[CNN]

TIME Aging

Watch: The Island That Holds the Secret to Long Life

Here's how the people of Ikaria, Greece reach old age

+ READ ARTICLE

Today is the 115th birthday of Jeralean Talley, the oldest living American.

While reaching that age would be considered a feat by many, it’s not so far-fetched to the people of Ikaria, Greece. In 2009, it was named a longevity hotspot for being home to people who reach the age of 90 at a rate two and a half times greater than in the U.S.

“Ikaria’s a very unique island. The people are not what you would find in other places. They have a different lifestyle, a different way of looking at life,” said Thea Parikos, an American-born Ikarian who returned to the island as an adult.

Situated in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria is a mountainous island with a population of 10,000. Winding dirt paths descend toward cerulean water and the faint bleating of meandering goats in the distance can often be heard. The island’s arresting beauty and temperate climate create an enticing atmosphere of rest, but elderly Ikarians thrive on keeping themselves busy.

The remarkable longevity of Ikarians is attributed to multiple factors. A heavily plant-based diet, habitual physical activity such as tending to a garden, social bonds, and a stoic approach to stressful situations have been cited as reasons why Ikaria is home to such a high number of centenarians.

“Everybody’s trying to find the secrets of longevity,” said Xanthi Tigani, who is writing her Ph.D. thesis on Greek longevity at the University of Athens Medical School. “There’s no one thing that can make you grow to be 100 years old or older.”

Nothing can make us stop trying to figure it out, though. And the Ikarians may provide some clues.

Dan Q. Tham is a production assistant for the CNN Documentary Unit.

MONEY Food & Drink

National Crisis! Free Bread Disappearing at Restaurants

Selection of breads in restaurant
Kieran Scott—Getty Images

The free bread basket, once a staple at any halfway decent restaurant, is increasingly off the table around the country.

You want bread with your meal? Then be prepared to pay up. More and more restaurants around the country are upending decades of tradition by doing away with the bread basket.

The obvious reason that free bread is disappearing—or being offered upon request instead of showing up automatically—is that it’s expensive. According to one baker interviewed recently by the Boston Globe, “a restaurant used to be able to get a roll for 10 cents. Now it can be 50 or 55 cents. Bread used to be cheap, but now it’s a serious cost.”

Even worse, restaurateurs are facing the proposition of paying more for bread during a time when diners are less likely to eat it, thanks to dietary restrictions and trends—in particular, the two big pushes to eliminate or restrict carbs and gluten. These shifts in eating habits don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. The National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago last week featured no fewer than 75 booths with gluten-free products.

In San Francisco, where it’s become common for restaurants to either charge for bread or offer it only upon request, the new policies are promoted as a means to limit unnecessary waste. “I’m all for” it, wrote the San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer, because in the past, much of the free bread wound up in the trash, untouched. “Why waste bread if the diner really doesn’t want it?”

Baby boomers, who have lived for decades with complimentary carbs, seem to be much more upset than younger generations about the disappearing act. The Arizona Republic, which last fall noted the phenomenon at restaurants in the retiree-heavy Phoenix area, quoted one 51-year-old man who spoke for many when he said the change was a way for a restaurant to “chintz out.” A 20-year-old customer, on the other hand, felt quite differently: “I usually prefer that [restaurants] don’t give me bread because it fills me up.”

For restaurant owners, the decision to bread or not to bread tables comes down to figuring out a way to keep customers happy while maximizing sales and limiting unnecessary costs. Sensitive strategizing is needed to avoid putting off patrons.

Earlier this year, The Record (N.J.) reported that many restaurants in northern New Jersey have either stopped placing free bread at tables or deliver it only by request after customers have placed their orders. Why the latter? Because restaurants want people to order when they’re hungriest, and customers are less likely to spring for appetizers and big entrees if they’ve already started chowing down on bread.

“If we can’t sell plates because people are filling up on bread, it’s a financial burden,” said one New Jersey restaurant owner. “We’re in the business to sell food, not to sell bread.”

One sneaky strategy, employed by Abby Lane Food & Spirits in Boston, involves subbing homemade spicy barbecue blue potato chips for free bread at tables. The chips cost a fifth as much to produce as bread, and they are gluten-free, the Globe reported, which works out brilliantly for the restaurant. Even better—for the restaurant—because the chips are so salty, customers tend to spend more on drinks.

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