Eat carbs after 6pm and you’ll gain weight! Or maybe you heard it was 3pm — or 8pm? Is there, in fact, a ‘witch­ing hour’ for carbs?

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Should you eat car­bo­hy­drates at night?

For many years fat was the en­emy, but th­ese days it seems car­bo­hy­drates have ‘taken the cake’ as the real vil­lain in Aussies’ bat­tle with the bulge.

There’s a small ker­nel of truth at the heart of this con­cern. It’s true we eat too many highly re­fined carb-rich foods, such as bis­cuits and pizza, so eat­ing less of th­ese can be a sen­si­ble weight-loss de­ci­sion. But should you also be con­cerned about what time of the day you eat carbs?

When the night owl bites

Five dif­fer­ent clin­i­cal tri­als have tried to de­ter­mine the ef­fect that car­bo­hy­drates have on weight gain. And the find­ings? Some stud­ies show a weight-loss ad­van­tage for peo­ple who eat early, while oth­ers find late eaters gain less weight.

One re­cent short-term study of 29 healthy men ex­am­ined how two weeks of re­stricted night-time eat­ing af­fected weight, com­pared to two weeks of nor­mal evening eat­ing. All foods and drinks with kilo­joules were banned from 7pm–6am each night.

The re­stricted night-time eaters ate less — about 1000 fewer kilo­joules each day — com­pared to their nor­mal eat­ing pat­terns. This small en­ergy dif­fer­ence was enough for them to lose al­most half a kilo­gram dur­ing the two-week re­stric­tion. This changed when they went back to reg­u­lar eat­ing: they gained about the same amount of weight over the next two weeks.

But we’re all dif­fer­ent!

How­ever, tak­ing into ac­count all five stud­ies, the key mes­sage that emerges from all this re­search is that every­one’s out­come is dif­fer­ent when they eat carbs at night. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule about what time of day is best to eat.

There is, nev­er­the­less, some merit in con­sid­er­ing eat­ing less food at night — be that carbs or any other type of food. Eat­ing a lot in the evening can be a symp­tom of un­healthy di­etary habits, es­pe­cially if much of the ex­tra food you’re con­sum­ing is

help­ing fuel nightly marathon TV watch­ing and couch-sit­ting ses­sions.

Not all carbs are equal

In­stead of ban­ning carbs at night, it’s much bet­ter to make smarter carb choices. ‘Good carbs’ are foods that haven’t un­der­gone a lot of pro­cess­ing, and are a valu­able source of di­etary fi­bre. Fresh and dried fruits, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, and whole grains tick th­ese boxes. Try to limit carbs like cakes, pas­tries, re­fined white bread, burg­ers and fried chips.

Choos­ing bet­ter types of car­bo­hy­drates will also do your health the world of good. Rather than shun­ning carbs, em­brace good-qual­ity carbs for the va­ri­ety, taste and aroma they bring to your food choices.

The bot­tom line

The truth is carbs can’t tell the time, so it in fact makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence when you eat them.

There’s noth­ing in­her­ently fat­ten­ing about carbs. It’s overeat­ing too many kilo­joules, plus un­healthy food choices, that can cause weight gain — and this can hap­pen at morn­ing, noon and night.

Dr Tim Crowe is an Ad­vanced Ac­cred­ited Prac­tis­ing Di­eti­tian and nutri­tion re­search sci­en­tist. Con­nect with him at think­ingnu­tri­

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