In the not-too-distant past, snacking was a critical part of the daily routine for most people with diabetes. This was largely due to the more limited options for insulin therapy, and it meant that many people had to plan their diabetic snacks in order to avoid dangerous episodes of low blood glucose or hypoglycemia during those peaks.
While newer options for insulin have made blood glucose regulation more manageable, some people still experience episodes of hypoglycemia that require snacks. Similarly, some people who are extremely active may need to supplement their diabetes diet with snacks prior to intense exercise. If you experience episodes of hypoglycemia regularly, you should consult your healthcare provider because your insulin regimen may need to be adjusted.
You should also be vigilant about checking your blood glucose levels after snacking to ensure your blood glucose levels are within a safe range. Your healthcare provider will help you determine a protocol for monitoring blood glucose after an episode of hypoglycemia.
Reach for the Right Diabetic Snacks
Most healthcare provider will recommend diabetic snacks containing 15 grams of carbohydrates. Examples:
- ½ of a banana
- 1 small apple or orange
- ¼ cup of dried fruit and nut mix
- 2 small cookies
If you’re snacking in anticipation of intense exercise, you may want to increase the carbohydrate content of your diabetic snack to 30 grams, which would include such foods as:
- 1 medium banana with 1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter
- 6 ounces of light yogurt with ¾ cup berries
- ½ peanut or almond butter sandwich on whole grain bread with 1 cup skim milk
Of course, many of us have occasions when we crave a snack even without experiencing significant hypoglycemia. This is where being smart in your snacking habits becomes so important. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the past 30 years shows that Americans are snacking twice as much as they used to, and that snacking more times in a day is associated with consuming more calories. This is of particular importance in type 2 diabetes, where maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of overall diabetes management.
Strategies for Diabetic Snacks: 3 to Remember
There are several strategies you should aim for when snacking for enjoyment as opposed to snacking to prevent hypoglycemia.
1. Make healthy food choices in general: Choose diabetic snacks that pack a strong nutritional punch. You can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables; they’re high in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, which will help you feel full. Be wary of pre-packaged snacks labeled “sugar-free” or “diabetic” as they may be high in fat and calories. Consider mixing a fiber-rich carbohydrate with a protein source to maximize the feeling-full sensation. Examples of such snacks include:
- 3 celery sticks with 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
- ½ a hard-boiled egg and 2 baby carrots
- 1 ounce (approximately 15) almonds
- 3 whole grain crackers with 1 ounce of low-fat cheese
- 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds
2. Monitor your portions: As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s data shows, snacking can be a significant source of daily calories. Keeping your snacking calories to a minimum can be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight.
In addition to choosing healthy foods, try to keep your portions small. Buying single-serving packages of almonds or carrots, for example, or buying in bulk and creating your own single-serving packages can be an effective way of preventing yourself from eating more than you should. Consult a diabetes food exchange list to determine whether your portion meets your nutritional and caloric goals or a carbohydrate counting guide to see whether you’re maintaining your overall daily carbohydrate goal.
3. Plan ahead: If you have diabetes, your healthcare provider, perhaps along with a dietitian, will help you identify your daily nutritional and metabolic needs. They’ll take into account your physical activity level, your medication regimen, and your weight goals.
If you know what your meals are going to be for the day, plan snacks that allow you to still achieve the goals you and your healthcare provider have set. For example, if you anticipate a dinner with more carbohydrates and calories than normal but know you’ll want an afternoon snack, pack one with very few carbohydrates or calories (celery sticks or broccoli florets).
Consider checking your blood glucose levels before and after snacking to determine how your body reacts to different selections. That way, you can further hone in on snacks that allow you to maintain good blood glucose control.
For further reading, please visit these University Health News posts:
- “Glycemic Index Chart: GI Ratings for Hundreds of Foods“
- “How to Eat Healthy—and Why“
- “Prediabetes: Diet Advice That Can Keep You Healthy“
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.