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Nightly munchies don't have to bust diet

By Craig Clough, Staff writer
Published On: May 24 2011 11:56:36 AM CDT
Updated On: May 30 2012 11:56:36 AM CDT
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Most health experts agree that if you are trying to stay in shape or lose weight, eating late at night is not a good idea.
Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. Many of us get up early, work a full day then exercise after. By the time Jay Leno or David Letterman come on the TV screen, our stomachs are growling.

For others, it is simply a habit: TV remote in one hand, bag of Doritos in the other.

But late-night eating habits can be one of the surest ways to add numbers to the bathroom scale in the morning, experts say. Too much protein and too many carbohydrates at night can lead to weight gain, and the key is to find a moderate mixture of the two, according to celebrity fitness trainer Michael George.

George has trained A-list celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire and Meg Ryan, has appeared on ABC's "Extreme Makeover" and is the author of the fitness book "Body Express Makeover."

Getting A Good Mix

George said that many people are not aware of the importance of mixing carbohydrates and protein, especially late at night. People think that if they are trying to lose weight they should just eat an apple or a banana before going to sleep. But George said this habit of taking in pure carbohydrates can lead to weight gain."

If you don't have any protein, you spike your insulin levels. The hormone of insulin is what we call the fat-storing hormone. If you start spiking your insulin levels, that tells your body to store fat," says George.

Nancy Clark, a registered dietician and author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook," agrees that mixing carbohydrates and protein late at night is the best way to keep your weight down. She also points out that protein is filling."(Protein) stays in the stomach longer, it takes longer to digest and empty from the stomach," says Clark. "So protein is more satiating, it stays longer."

Eat More During The Day

According to Clark, one way to avoid the late-night munchies is to eat more during the day. Clark said that most Americans eat in reverse -- they have a light breakfast or skip it, a simple lunch and then a big dinner. Clark advises her clients to do the reverse by starting with a big breakfast and even working in a second lunch. By the time dinner rolls around, they aren't as hungry."

I have my clients eat every four hours of the day," said Clark. "They have a good breakfast at eight, lunch at 12, a second lunch at 4, so that second lunch uses up a lot of night-time calories after eating earlier in the day. So, instead of having cookies at 10, why not have cookies at 4? The purpose of those first three meals is to ruin the appetite for dinner."

The experts seem to agree that it is best to avoid late-night snacks if you want to keep your weight down. However, many of us, despite our best efforts, still get the late-night munchies and have a hard time going to sleep feeling hungry.So, if you must, here are five suggestions for late-night snacks that the experts say will not increase your waist size. The key in all these snacks is a mixture of carbohydrates with a small amount of protein."

Having a little bit of protein with each and every meal, that's the key," says George

Vegetables and dip -- You can never go wrong with vegetables, and don't forget to mix in a little bit of protein for a healthy snack."I typically like having things like vegetables -- whether it be carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower -- and maybe a little bit of string cheese," said George. "You can also use ranch dressing to dip the veggies in."

Fruits and cottage cheese If you crave something a little bit sweeter than a celery stick, an apple or a banana is a better way to satisfy your sweet tooth than a pint of ice cream."A little bit of fruit with some cottage cheese is a good idea, like a tablespoon of cottage cheese and a handful of berries or strawberries, or half an apple," said George.

Leftovers That leftover slice of pizza sitting in your refrigerator can be a healthy late-night snack. Clark said that limiting yourself to a unit of food, like one slice of pizza, can give you a good combination of carbohydrates and protein and leave your stomach feeling full."Leftover chicken and rice, leftover pizza, a frozen burrito -- they're units of food," said Clark. "They have a start and a finish, and they have a certain amount of calories and they tend to be satiating."

Nuts and yogurt Nuts are a good source of protein, and go well with some yogurt, which can also help satisfy your sweet tooth."You could have a handful of nuts with a little bit of cottage cheese or some yogurt. Not much, just maybe a tablespoon of yogurt," said George. "Basically, what people are looking for is just a little something to hold them over until they go to sleep so they don't go to bed hungry."

English muffin and peanut butter Peanut butter -- even just a little -- can be very filling. But make sure not to have too much, the experts say."It can be cashew peanut butter or almond peanut butter. And the fat is going to satiate you and give you a little more flavor," said George. "Just make sure that it's no more that a tablespoon, max."