We’ve all been there: it’s nighttime, well after dinner, but your tummy is still rumbling. You’re looking for something satisfying to silence your hunger pangs and set you up for a cozy, restful sleep. Or maybe it’s been a late night with a few too many adult beverages and your late night cravings get the best of you.
Sometimes, snacking before bed can actually help you shed pounds; munching on cottage cheese or sipping a protein shake is one of our 30 Things to do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
But there are some foods that can set you up for failure. In addition to tacking on extra calories to the end of your day—which can derail weight-loss efforts—eating the wrong food before bed can lead to indigestion and a night of tossing and turning. And since getting plenty of sleep is one of the tenets of losing weight, disrupting your REM cycles can make you pack on those unwanted pounds.
So what is the absolute worst food to down before you hit the sack? Pizza. Specifically, pepperoni pizza. And if you love to add peppers or crushed red pepper flakes on your pie, it’s even worse. Here’s why.
It Can Give You Indigestion
For people who already have a sensitive GI tract, they know that no slice of pizza is complete without heartburn medication and a hefty supply of antacids. The spiciness of the pepperoni and the acid in the tomato sauce can lead to a sour stomach, or worse.
“The combination of fat in the cheese and the acid in the tomato sauce can have a negative impact on your sleep quality,” Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, explained in our article The 30 Best and Worst Foods to Eat Before Sleep. “High-acid foods can trigger acid reflux, especially when eaten close to bedtime. Even if you don’t feel ‘heartburn,’ this reflux can cause you to awaken partially from sleep and leave you tired the next day.”
In addition to heartburn, the high fat content in the cheese can give you indigestion, which is an overall uncomfortable feeling. Spending the night downing TUMS or Pepto-Bismol instead of actually sleeping will undoubtedly lead to a poor night’s sleep. It’s best to avoid these acid reflux triggers altogether before bed.
Dairy Can Leave You Running to the Restroom
Sure, cheese is delicious, which is why pizza is one of America’s favorite foods. But it can also wreak havoc on your digestive system (mainly, your bowel movements) if you’re not careful. About 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, the National Institutes of Health estimates. As people get older, they tend to lose the enzymes that help digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy. Since the bacteria in your colon loves to feed on these sugars, this can result in uncomfortable GI issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
So it’s no surprise that eating a lot of dairy at a time right before bed is a bad idea. Between running to the restroom and waking yourself up with your own flatulence, you’re bound to get a bad night’s sleep.
Cheese Can Give You Bad Dreams
The idea that cheese gives you nightmares has been around for generations. Although it sounds like an old wives tale, there is some evidence to suggest that indulging in cheese, especially before bed, can give you unpleasant dreams. Participants in one study reported that they were more likely to experience bad dreams after consuming dairy products (like cheese!) before bed.
Another study published by the British Cheese Board in 2005 found that different types of cheese can give you different types of dreams (though no one reported nightmares, per se). It should be noted that this was a study conducted by a group in charge of promoting cheese, so it was more marketing than scientific.
So even if the evidence is more anecdotal than scientific, it’s worth avoiding that hefty dose of mozzarella before bed, just in case. Besides, the indigestion from all the cheese is bound to be unpleasant, regardless.
This doesn’t mean you should ditch this cheesy, delicious food entirely. There’s always room for it in your diet; some people have even lost tons of weight eating pizza for most meals — seriously! Check out The Pizza Diet for more proof. Just be sure you enjoy it a few hours before you hit the hay. Some better bedtime options would be a banana, a handful of nuts, or some slices of turkey. And be sure to sip on some decaffeinated herbal tea to help you wind down and get some quality Zzzs.