Does food taste better at night? BYU study examines nighttime snacking

Posted at 9:52 PM, May 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-10 23:52:23-04

PROVO, Utah – A lot of people "pig out" at night, downing a bag of chips or a package of cookies before going to bed, which led some Brigham Young University researchers to examine whether food is more appealing at night than in the morning.

Travis Masterson, a graduate student at BYU, carried out the research for his master’s thesis under the guidance of his faculty adviser, James Lecheminant—who is an associate professor of exercise sciences.

To gather the data, they studied 15 volunteers--all 23-year-old women.

“And they went through this great big MRI machine and looked at pictures of food and we measured their brain responses during that time,” Lecheminant said.

It was no surprise that the women's brains had a much higher response to foods like potato chips and fast food as opposed to healthier fare, but researchers were curious about whether the time of day mattered as well.

"We tend to see a lot of snacking at night and that adds a lot of calories into your diet and can cause weight gains,” Masterson said of their reasons for the study.

So the women were tested once in the morning and once in the evening for one month. The researchers said they really thought the subjects would be more interested in food at night.

“But it turned out to be just the opposite, it turned out that at least in six areas of the brain the visual responses to these visual foods cues were lower,” Lecheminant said.

So, why do some people eat a lot at night if food is more appealing in the morning? That’s not clear, but Masterson said he thinks that since eating at night is not as satisfying, people may eat a larger quantity of food in order to become satisfied.

Masterson said plans to continue his study as he pursues a Ph.D. this fall at Penn. State University.