Who doesn’t love a good snack? Whether it’s before lunch, after dinner or any other time of the day, snack foods just seem to call out to you sometimes, right?
When you have diabetes, snacking can get a little trickier. That’s because you want to choose healthy snacks that satisfy your hunger without making your blood sugar too low or too high.
It can take some time and education to learn which snacks are right for you, says Amy Kimberlain, a Miami-based national spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That’s why it’s important to talk to your diabetes health care team about how any medications that you use, like insulin, may affect your blood sugar. Once you know that, you’re armed with the right knowledge to select your snacks.
A Goal of Snacking: Satiety
There could be many reasons why you feel like you want to snack. You may be bored, stressed or you’re just craving certain foods. If you’re very active, you might need a snack before or after exercise, says registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist Alison Massey, founder of Flourish My Health in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland.
Hunger can even be a symptom of high blood sugar, Kimberlain says. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your kidneys, heart and other parts of the body. In some cases, high blood sugar can even require emergency care.
Ideally, you’re snacking because you’re a little hungry and want to bridge the gap to your next meal, Kimberlain says. Satiety, or a feeling of fullness after eating, holds an important place in both weight management and blood sugar management for people with diabetes. For instance, you should feel full after eating a meal or snack. Feeling full is great for weight management so you don’t overeat. For blood sugar control, satiety can stop you from making poor food choices that spike your blood sugar.
The body has a series of mechanisms that occur as you eat. The hypothalamus, a tiny area in the brain, regulates both the desire to eat and to stop eating. And there’s a temperature component: When you eat, your body temperature slightly increases, to help your body digest its food. In turn, you start to reduce the amount of food you’re eating.
A snack that will help fill you up should combine foods that are high in fiber (three grams of fiber or more in your total snack), low in calories (aim for around 200 calories max) and have some protein (at least five grams but it could be more). Snacks also can include about 15 grams of carbs, but you’ll always want to verify the right amount of any nutrient with your diabetes health care team.
Taste, smell and texture also help determine what’s a good snack. For instance, foods that are chewy take more time to eat, and that can increase satiety.
Snack foods that are high in fiber like fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread products add bulk to your diet and will help you maintain that full feeling longer than other foods. If you have diabetes, higher fiber foods serve as an added benefit by helping slow down the absorption of carbohydrates. Foods that contain protein like cheese or yogurt have been shown to increase satiety due to changing the levels of some satiety hormones.
Are Crackers a Good Snack When You Have Diabetes?
Crackers are such a popular snack, you may wonder if it’s OK to include crackers for diabetes snacks. After all, many crackers are high in carbs.
The solution? Look for crackers made with whole grain. These will provide more fiber than non-whole-grain crackers, so they’ll fill you up longer. One example is whole-wheat crackers, which you can pair with protein and healthy fats (like ricotta cheese or nut butter). You’ll have to read the packaging to look for labeling that says they’re made with whole wheat or whole grains. Find crackers that say they have three grams of fiber or more per serving.
Also, look for crackers with no added sugars.
12 Best Diabetes Snacks
So, what are some of the best snacks for diabetes that are also healthy? Here are several ideas for the next time you’re noshing:
1. A small apple with a tablespoon of nut butter.
Notice if adding that tablespoon of nut butter (filled with protein) helps you feel fuller longer than just the apple itself.
2. Three cups of popcorn sprinkled with a tablespoon of parmesan cheese.
3. One cup of blueberries with two tablespoons of cottage cheese, a half teaspoon of raw sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
4. A handful of almonds.
Actually, most combinations of nuts and seeds can be a great snack. “These are a favorite of mine to recommend because they are low in carbohydrates per serving and very satisfying, providing a combination of protein, healthy fat and fiber,” Massey says. Almonds are a terrific choice because they can help lower blood sugar and provide fibre. A typical serving is 23 almonds.
5. Ten grapes and a cup of tomatoes, celery and cucumber slices with one tablespoon of hummus.
7. A slice of whole wheat bread with one tablespoon of nut butter and one-fourth a cup of blueberries.
Blueberries are a great snack addition because they’re low carb.
8. A hard-boiled egg and some cherry tomatoes.
9. Dark chocolate.
It may not be a complete snack on its own, but you can make a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate part of your snacks (yum). That’s because dark chocolate, which is more than 85% cacao (the unprocessed form of cocoa), can boost your satiety. Make sure to include that one-ounce serving in your carb allotment.
10. A whole-wheat pita with two tablespoons of hummus or bean dip.
11. Whole-grain crackers and skim-milk ricotta cheese with a few slices of tomatoes.
12. Half of an avocado.
Avocadoes are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, so you can add them to the list of foods that will likely offer satiety.
And how about a good beverage to enjoy with your snacks?
There’s nothing better than water but if you want to vary it up, try decaf coffee. You could even have decaf on its own without food. That’s because there are studies that show decaf coffee can help decrease hunger and increase satiety levels. Research showed there was an elevation in a gut hormone that resulted in satiety. Just remember to skip the added sugary ingredients.
6 Tips to Snack Smarter When Living With Diabetes
Have a ready-made snack with you.
Carry a portioned snack with you so you don’t get stuck running errands and feeling your glucose level drop with no snack around, advises Brenda Braslow, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist in Denver.
Stick to one serving instead of eating mindlessly.
“When you don’t portion out your food serving, you have no idea how much you are eating,” Braslow says. It’s too easy to eat mindlessly if you have a full-sized box or bag of a snack with you. A better approach: Check the serving size in advance, and find small bowls or snack bags to portion snacks.
Don’t skip your meals.
Skipping meals can be dangerous, especially when you use diabetes medications. It could also set you up for mindless snacking later.
Understand how your insulin works.
Some types of insulin, like a mixed one (this contains both short- and long-acting insulin), requires a schedule for eating so the insulin always has food to act on, Kimberlain says. If there isn’t food there, it can induce low blood sugar. It can get confusing, so ask your diabetes health care team to help you better understand insulin and how it may affect your snacking.
Mix it up.
You don’t need to rely on the same snack all the time. Relying too much on the same thing may make those less healthy choices more tempting, Braslow says. Vary your snacks to keep things interesting.
Meet with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes care and education specialist.
If you’re still stumped about snacks, they can help tailor the right snacks for your nutritional needs.