Midnight snacks can fatten you up and cheese might be famous for giving you nightmares.
However, eating cottage cheese just before you go to bed could actually make you healthier, a study claims.
The low-calorie food boosts metabolism, muscles and overall health – even while you are sleeping, say scientists.
Having two tablespoons of cottage cheese half an hour before bed could improve your health by strengthening your muscles and immune system.
The high levels of protein in the dairy snack boost your metabolism during the night, researchers say, and also help your muscles recover if you’ve been exercising.
A higher metabolism over a long period of time could actually help you lose weight – something most people won’t think of when they’re scoffing cheese. Researchers from Florida State University tested the effects of eating cottage cheese before bed on 10 active women in their 20s.
Each of them ate 30g (1oz) of cottage cheese between 30 minutes and an hour before they went to sleep, at least two hours after their full evening meal.
The scientists wanted to compare the effects of cottage cheese with those of protein shakes, which are popular in the fitness community for helping muscle repair and metabolism.
‘Until now, we presumed whole foods would act similarly to the data on supplemental protein, but we had no real evidence,’ said Professor Michael Ormsbee, the study’s author.
‘This is important because it adds to the body of literature that indicates whole foods work just as well as protein supplementation.
‘And it gives people options for pre-sleep nutrition that go beyond powders and shaker bottles.’
Even for those who have sworn off eating at night, there is no gain in body fat, the professor added.
Cottage cheese is believed to be ideal before bed because it contains a lot of a protein called casein, which releases slowly into the body.
This ensures a steady supply of amino acids – the body’s building blocks – throughout the night.
When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids which are used to help your body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function.
Women in the study, which was done in a laboratory, woke between 5am and 8am, and scientists measured how much energy they had burned while asleep.
The results showed their bodies werre just as efficient after cottage cheese as when they were given a casein shake to drink before going to bed.
Professor Ormsbee and his graduate student, Samantha Leyh, said the cottage cheese had improved their metabolic rate and muscle recovery equally as well.
Ms Leyh, who is now a research dietitian with the US Air Force, said the results serve as a foundation for future research on precise metabolic responses to whole food consumption.
She said: ‘While protein supplements absolutely have their place, it is important to begin pooling data for foods and understanding the role they can play in these situations.
‘Like the effects of vitamins and minerals when consumed in whole food form such as fruits or veggies, perhaps whole food sources may follow suit.
‘While we can’t generalise for all whole foods as we have only utilised cottage cheese, this research will hopefully open the door to future studies doing just that.’
Professor Ormsbee said his team will start examining more pre-sleep food options by carrying out longer term studies.
This will shed light on the best choices for overall health, recovery from exercise and the repair and regeneration of muscle.
He said: ‘There is much more to uncover in this area of study.’
The different way certain foods behave in the body depending on the time of day they are digested is an increasing area of research.
Salmon is also said to be a good pre-bed food because it is high in protein and healthy omega fats which are good for health.
Having it with a salad adds bulk and fibre for the perfect low-carb option. Like cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt is also high in protein and packs a calcium punch.
The research was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.