Do late dinners and snacks make you fat?

Do calories eaten closer to bedtime count more than those consumed earlier in the day? The debate rages on for dieters. But before you swear off food when the sun heads south, an expert weighs in with some practical advice.

Health news website MyHealthNewsDaily reported this week that it takes about three hours to digest a typical dinner of about 600 calories (assuming it contains a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables). If you have an early dinner in an effort to avoid eating post-sundown, you might be fighting off hunger pangs right around bedtime - hence, you're likely to lose the battle, head to the fridge, and eat what you find there.

The New York Times recently reported that research on the subject of late eating and weight has yielded mixed results, and most of the studies have been carried out in animals. However the paper also cites a study on adult men and women published this spring that supports the claim that late-night eating can affect your waistline, although it is not really understood why.

If you're trying to lose weight, it's best to avoid raiding the fridge in your pajamas, unless of course you're raiding a fruit cup. But for many dieters, nighttime can bring a weakened resolve to stick with a healthy regimen, which is one reason nighttime nibbling is a no-no in the world of dieting.

To avoid this common pitfall, MyHealthNewsDaily suggests brushing your teeth to keep from eating after dinner. Nothing spoils the palate for salt and vinegar chips quite like minty fresh breath.

After dinner, don't immediately start cleaning the kitchen, or even better, have someone else do it. The rationale: you might start picking on leftovers while you clean. Give your body the required 20 minutes to register that it is actually satiated.

Also, eat a "substantial" afternoon snack, advises MyHealthNewsDaily. "If you know that a late dinner is in the cards, have a snack in the late afternoon that includes some protein, carbs, and veggies" to take the edge off your appetite and control overeating at dinner.

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