If you have diabetes, healthy snacks are particularly important – so don’t fall prey to the allure of chips just yet.
First, think about whether you really need a snack. Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you need to snack regularly. “It really depends on the individual and their typical meal pattern and physical activity routine,” says registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Alison Massey, who is director of diabetes education for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Just who may benefit from a snack? “For individuals who have long periods of time between meals that exceed four to five hours, they may need a snack to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia,” Massey says. Similarly, someone who is very active may need a snack before or after exercise.
Still, “I prefer that individuals don’t feel that they absolutely must snack, especially if they aren’t hungry,” she says.
Brenda Braslow, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver, has also observed patients, especially those on insulin, who eat frequently because they are afraid of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. But snacking is not necessarily the answer. “That person needs to talk with their health care provider to make an adjustment of medication to prevent [blood sugar] lows,” she says.
At the same time, for the right person, snacking can help prevent dangerous blood sugar lows.
If snacking is the right option for you right now, then look for snacks that combine quality carbohydrates with protein, recommends clinical dietitian Ashley Wilson of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida.
Braslow agrees. “Adding a protein or fat to the carb helps to sustain the blood glucose and can increase satiety, carrying the person longer to the next meal,” she explains.
Keep your snack’s carb count relatively low – somewhere between 15 to 25. Here are a few snack ideas that fill you up without sending your blood sugar into a spiral:
1. Nuts and seeds.
“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.
2.Cheese and Yogurt:
An ounce of cheese with whole grain crackers or plain yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh fruit. These ideas offer both protein and calcium, Massey says.
3. Apple and Nut Butter
A small apple with 1 tablespoon of nut butter. “I advise people to experiment with snack choices,” Braslow says. Notice if adding that tablespoon of nut butter helps you feel full longer than just the apple itself.
4. Three cups of popcorn sprinkled with a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.
5. Blueberries and Cottage Cheese:
One cup of blueberries with a dollop of 2 tablespoons of cottage cheese, a half teaspoon of raw sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
6. Tomato, Celery and Cucumber:
Ten grapes, one cup of tomatoes, celery and cucumber slices with one tablespoon of hummus.
7. Yogurt and Berries
Unsweetened Greek yogurt with a few berries. Berries are a low-carb fruit, Wilson says.
If you want to add more volume to your snacks, Braslow suggests adding “filler” vegetables like tomatoes, celery or cucumber slices. And if you need to add a protein source, add a hard-boiled egg, as Wilson suggests.
As you plan your next snack, follow these suggestions to avoid common snacking mistakes seen by registered dietitians:
Have a ready-made snack with you. “Don’t get stuck running errands and feeling your glucose level drop with no snack around. I advise people to carry a portioned snack with them, like a granola bar or a snack bag of crackers and nuts,” Braslow says. Some people will have shakes or snack bars made for people with diabetes as their ready-to-go snack. Although Wilson isn’t opposed to this, she does recommend reading the label before you buy to make sure the product isn’t loaded with carbs or sugar.
Avoid snacks that are too high in carbs or calories. “Snacks that are very high in carbohydrates can elevate blood glucose levels too much before the next meal, especially for individuals with Type 2 diabetes that may not be taking insulin to ‘cover’ those snack occasions,” Massey says. She also advises people who are not extremely active to stick to snacks of less than 150 calories.
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. “Don’t set yourself up by keeping a box of crackers in your desk drawer or a large bag of trail mix in the car.” It’s just way too easy to underestimate what you eat. Instead, check the serving size in advance and find small bowls or snack bags to portion snacks.
Don’t skip your meals. Skipping meals, especially when you use certain diabetes medications, can be especially dangerous, Wilson says. It could also set you up for mindless snacking later, which you want to avoid.
Vary your snacks. If you eat the same apple every day, it’s only natural that you may sneak over to the vending machine to see what else is there. “Mix it up to keep it appealing,” Braslow recommends.