BEHIND THE HEADLINES WITH DR TIM CROWE
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?
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 thinkingnutrition.com.au