Many people wish that foods came with instructions, similar to medications and supplements.
In this type of world, you would buy a bag of baby carrots at the store and see them stamped with the message, “For best health results, eat me at exactly 7:47am, and eat exactly 5 of me!” Of course, this is not reality, so we need to use critical thinking to determine if there is any reason why eating carrots at night would be a net positive or negative.
Carrots before bed
As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, it’s best not to get too stuck in a black-and-white mindset when it comes to food choices. “Is eating carrots right before bed healthy?” is a question that has many possible answers, depending on who you are and what your context and goals are.
There are a few reasons why you might avoid eating food — even healthy food like carrots — right before bed.
First, there is some evidence suggesting that eating more of your calories earlier in the day is better.
In this study, the subjects (all men with prediabetes) were required to eat all of their meals before 3pm, with no snacking afterward.
This eating approach is called “early time-restricted feeding” (eTRF).
The results showed improved insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and oxidative stress with this eating pattern, along with suppressed appetite in the evenings.
Second, eating right before bed could lead to sleep disruptions, as your body will have to deal with the burden of food digestion when it should be resting and rebuilding.
If you instead get accustomed to eating most of your calories before the sun goes down, you may find that this eating pattern is more aligned with your circadian rhythm and leads to consistently better sleep. Dr. Satchin Panda is a leading authority on circadian rhythm—watch his TED Talk to learn more.
On the other hand, not everyone will respond to an eTRF eating pattern the same way.
If you find that eating most of your calories before nighttime is not suitable for your lifestyle — for example, if you have a habit of eating a later dinner with your family — do not feel like you need to force your lifestyle to conform to some scientific ideal.
Eat your meals when you’re accustomed to eating them, and just try to make them as nutrient-dense as possible.
If you do find that you need a small snack before bed (for example, if you often wake up feeling hungry), carrots may not be a bad choice.
They have some fiber to keep you feeling full, they have vitamins (especially the plant version of vitamin A, vitamins B, C, E, and K, and many minerals), and they shouldn’t raise your blood sugar much.
Add in some protein and fat — maybe a boiled egg or Greek yogurt — and you have a balanced snack that is not too high in calories but should also keep you from feeling hungry throughout the night.
Can carrots keep you awake at night?
As discussed in the previous paragraph, an early time-restricted eating pattern has been shown to improve some markers of metabolic health in some people, so this way of eating is worth experimenting with — especially if you have high blood pressure, consistently high insulin, or diabetes/prediabetes.
Specifically, eating all your meals while the sun is up is a good approach to try.
Finishing your final meal 2-3 hours before you go to bed — if you go to bed at 10pm, finishing dinner by 7 or 8pm — is a generally healthy practice for most people.
This gives your body time to finish the initial stages of digestion and lower blood sugar back to normal levels by the time you go to bed, and you may find this improves your sleep quality.
With regard to carrots, in particular, there is no currently known compound in them that would inherently disrupt sleep.
Unlike coffee beans, chocolate, or some types of tea leaves, carrots don’t have caffeine that would be an asleep inhibitor for most people.
If you find that eating carrots before bed keeps you awake, it is likely not the carrots themselves that are causing the issue, but rather the act of eating right before bed.
You could eat anything right before bed and it would still keep you awake, regardless of what you ate.
If you find that this is the case, try the early time-restricted feeding approach outlined above.
Give yourself adequate time to adjust to your new eating schedule — don’t give up after a day or two if you find yourself getting hungry at night.
Stick with it and let your body adjust its hunger signals — it will adapt to your new eating schedule (as long as you are giving it enough food during the day).
What time of day is best to eat carrots?
In general, it’s smart to be careful about when you eat foods that are higher in carbs, even if you’re not specifically taking a ketogenic approach to eating.
As Bill Lagakos points out, eating carbs “early (in the day), but not often” is a smart approach to maintaining overall health, energy levels, and blood glucose control.
Most people are more insulin-sensitive (and therefore better able to handle blood sugar swings that come from eating carbs) in the morning, and less so at night.
With regards to carrots, however, the “carb early, but not often” rule would not really apply.
Carrots are higher in carbs than green veggies, but they are very low in carbs relative to other types of foods you may be eating (I.e., bread, potatoes, rice, oatmeal).
Therefore, I would recommend eating them whenever you like and whenever it best fits your schedule and lifestyle.