Written by Annie Duong
A typical family in the United States sets the table and gets ready for dinner at 6:00 P.M. On another side of the world, a family in Spain gathers for supper at 10:00 P.M. With such late meal times, the notion that late-night eating leads to weight gain is not apparent in many European countries. On the contrary, in the United States, 30% of the adult population is considered obese as opposed to 17%-20% in many European countries . Although the exact reasons for the trend in increasing obesity rates in the world are complex and include environmental and genetic contributors, an important factor that can be examined is the eating habits of countries across the world .
An older perspective on late-night eating argues that meals consumed in the evening have led to significant weight gain and increases risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, not all studies are consistent in comparing the differences in caloric intake in a certain time period or in determining whether the calories consumed are part of the last meal. Although it is true that large caloric intakes before sleep can lead to cardiovascular diseases, there is mounting data that indicates if smaller portions and more nutrient dense foods are eaten in proximity to sleep, only a small decrease in the daily fat oxidation and a small increase in the total level of cholesterol was found .
More case studies were done to compare the effect that macronutrients had on satiety and metabolism. In a recent study examining physically active men, the effects of carbohydrates and proteins were compared to each other as well as different protein sources to a placebo prior to sleep. There were no differences found in the participants’ metabolisms in the following morning between the different protein sources (casein and whey), but consuming the caloric protein beverage resulted in a higher resting energy expenditure. However, there was still insufficient data to conclusively state the effects of other macronutrients tested in the study. Another study by Japanese scientists Yukie Tsuchida, Sawa Hata, and Yoshiaki Sone extensively researched the effect of carbohydrate digestion. The result was that participants who had a later consumption of complex processed starches had a higher amount of unabsorbed carbohydrates the following morning .
It is important to recognize that although the timing of regular meals is crucial, having nutrient-rich meals is also important to optimize one’s health. The average American diet largely comprises of processed, high fat foods in excessive portions. It would be helpful to focus on consuming foods with more vitamins and minerals, and less cholesterol and saturated fats to improve one’s health.
 McAllister, E. J., Dhurandhar, N. V., Keith, S. W., Aronne, L. J., Barger, J., Baskin, M., … Allison, D. B. (2009). Ten Putative Contributors to the Obesity Epidemic. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 49(10), 868–913.
 Kinsey, Amber and Ormsbee, Michael. 2015. The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives. Nutrients. 7: 2648 - 2662
 Tsuchida, Yukie, Hata, Sawa, and Sone, Yoshiaki. 2013. Effects of a late supper on digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning. Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 32 (9): 1-7
Picture: Annie Duong