Nutrition Articles

Eating with Diabetes: Smart Snacking

20 Diabetes-Friendly Snack Ideas

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Whether you want to lose weight or simply eat healthier, enjoying a couple of snacks each day is a smart habit for many people. Eating a planned snack between meals can help curb your hunger (and therefore prevent overeating at mealtime) and also increase your energy levels when you need a boost. Snacks offer an additional benefit for people with type 2 diabetes: They can help optimize your blood glucose control. So if you haven't incorporated snacks into your diabetes meal plan yet, now may be the time to start. Here's what you need to know to snack smart, along with some carbohydrate-controlled snack ideas you can try today!

3 Considerations When Planning Snacks
The number of snacks a person with diabetes should eat during the day depends largely on your eating preferences, your weight-management goals, and the timing of your major meals. People with diabetes can eat snacks throughout the day for a number of reasons—simply enjoying a mid-morning snack or planning them into their day for better blood glucose control. Exactly how many snacks you should eat—and when you eat them—is very individualized. Meeting with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator is the best way to make sure your diabetes meal plan meets your needs. However, here are a few basic guidelines that can be helpful when planning snacks.
  1. How many hours pass between your meals? In general, people with diabetes who want to optimize blood glucose control should not go longer than five hours without eating. If you consistently eat your main meals every 4 to 5 hours, then you may not need any snacks between meals. However, if your main meals are generally spaced out at longer intervals, snacking between meals can help you achieve your best blood glucose control. This is common during a typical workday in which you eat lunch at noon but don't leave work until 5 p.m. In this case, you likely won't be eating your evening meal until after 5 p.m.—well past the 5-hour guideline—and an afternoon snack would be recommended.
     
  2. When do you prefer to eat? Do you find that you are usually yearning for a snack between meals? If so, you're better off planning these snacks into your daily meal plan rather than eating the additional calories and carbohydrates in these snacks on a whim (which can hinder your weight-loss and blood sugar control goals). Planning snacks into your daily routine better accounts for the calories and carbohydrates in the snack as part of your total goal for the day. For example, if you eat 1,500 calories in a day, those 1,500 calories can be divided among 3 meals and 2 snacks, 3 meals and 1 snack, or 3 meals and 3 snacks, or just among 3 meals—it is really up to you! But be careful: When you eat more often, you need to be more conscientious about portion sizes.
     
  3. Is your blood sugar low before bedtime? For those looking to optimize blood sugar control, eating a snack 1 to 2 hours before bedtime can sometimes improve blood sugar control and prevent nighttime hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), though not everyone will experience this benefit, according to recent research. A 2003 study published in the journal Diabetes Care suggests that people with diabetes who have blood glucose levels over 180 mg/dL before bed should not eat a bedtime snack; but those with blood glucose levels below 126 mg/dL at bedtime should have a snack (roughly 15 grams of carbohydrates and 100 calories) to prevent late-night lows.

    Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about whether or not a bedtime snack is right for your diabetes care plan. And remember, even though the blood glucose control benefits can vary from person to person, an evening snack can also be part of a diabetes meal plan simply because you enjoy an evening snack—again, it’s up to you!
How to Plan Your Snacks
People with diabetes should follow a daily meal plan to achieve specific calorie and carbohydrate goals for each meal, and snacks are no exception. In general, a diabetes-friendly snack should contain 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates and between 100 to 200 calories. If you are planning several snacks in addition to your meals, consider using the lower end of the recommendation: 15 grams of carbohydrates and 100 calories. Adding one ounce (7 grams) of protein to your snack is optional. At one time, people with diabetes were encouraged to eat protein with each snack because it was thought to "level out" increases in blood sugar after a meal. Recent research, however, does not support this theory, so eating protein at every snack is not a must for everyone—although it can increase feelings of fullness after eating, which is beneficial.
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About The Author

Amy L. Poetker Amy L. Poetker
Amy Poetker is a licensed and registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's degree in dietetics. Amy, who has spent most of her career working in diabetes education, is dedicated to the treatment of that disease and the prevention of related complications. See all of Amy's articles.

Member Comments

  • 15 grams of carbs for a snack without any added protein? THat would have me needing insulin in a hurry instead of being able to keep myself controlled with oral medication and diet. This advise is definitely not a 'one size fits all' option, and I wish diabetes educators would realize that some people really are able to do well with a food plan with less carbs so insulin is not needed instead of acting like the only healthy food plan includes at least 30 grams per meal and 15 grams per snack and pushing everyone on insulin. No thanks. - 8/18/2014 11:30:46 AM
  • This was a great article, especially since it urges us to learn and know about how our own bodies react. I restart SparkPeople to prepare for a doctor's appointment - so I could show what I have been doing and that we could figure out together what's going wrong. I have always know that I couldn't have 3 fruits in a day or that bananas makes my sugar go banana (excuse the pun). Today I will not follow the food plan exactly but eat and monitor blood sugar levels. It will be a test day. - 4/16/2014 7:09:16 AM
  • I am going to be brutally honest. The diabetes educator nearly put me in the hospital, and her advice caused an 8 pound weight gain in just 2 weeks.

    I have discovered (the hard way) that self education and the assistance of a real certified nutritionist to be far far far more valuable than the diabetic center in the closest city to my rural home.

    Just because someone in "authority" tell you something, doesn't make it gospel. Know yourself, know your body, and test your blood sugars to be sure their advice is appropriator for you. - 4/10/2014 12:14:11 PM
  • I find myself needing a snack at night. My go to is low calorie whole wheat bread and 2 tbsp low fat smooth peanut butter and 8 ounces of fat free milk. My sugars tend to spike very low about 4-5 hours after dinner so this ensures that it comes up enough and stays up diuring the night. My morning sugars are well within normal range for fasting so I am doing okay. I had discussed it with my Diabetic Specialist and Peanut butter is a very good choice. I add a whole grain for the fiber and healthy benefit and the milk well a peanut butter sandwich always tastes better with an ice cold glass of fat free milk. - 12/6/2013 2:54:24 PM
  • PENNYPOET
    I agree with the poster who wrote "these suggested foods contain absorbinate amounts of artificial sweetners, high fructose corn syrup, and highly processed meats and cheeses that are very high in sodium content, none of which are good for your health!" In fact, I find it shocking to see a photo of a large bowl of fruit at the top of this article. It reminds me of the Weight Watchers ads that show big pieces of frosted cake. Let's face reality. There are good snacks and a large bowl of fruit is not in that category. A small bowl of berries, yes. A small bowl of berries with sliced almonds atop, yes. - 4/14/2013 12:07:59 AM
  • If you are having that much trouble keeping your glucose at high enough levels througout the day and night it likely means you need an insulin adjustment! Consult your endo and eplain what is happening and that you are on this program. As a Nurse Practitioner I can assure you that they don't want you taking more insulin than you need and will be glad to work with you as you work toward healthy goals - 3/18/2013 2:54:22 PM
  • I'm finding it hard to keep my sugars stable enough during the day with the calories allowed me, but impossible to have my sugars high enough to go to bed Take tonight for example. I used up all my calories keeping my sugars stable during the day, but had a low of 77 right before I was due to go to bed - and required a sugar hit and a long-acting (low GI) snack to see me through the night - sending me way over my calories for the day - which happens at least three times a week. I have also noticed that many articles are aimed squarely at the Type 2 diabetics not on insulin, not at those of us who are on insulin for sugar control. I have reduced my insulin by 75%, but I require some every day. It is a balancing game that even after 13 years with diabetes I still cannot get right - and nor can my diabetic educator, my gp or my endocrinologist. I just want to lose weight, but my sugars won't let me :( - 3/18/2013 10:03:26 AM
  • MONADM1
    Amy, based on personal experience, I strongly disagree with the carb amounts per meal or snack you recommend for diabetics. They seem way too high. Have you considered the findings in "The Diabetes Solution" by Richard K. Bernstein, MD?

    Following Dr. Bernstein's recommendations of low-carb eating helped my husband control his Type 2 diabetes with diet alone, getting him off 20 years of high doses of medication. The moment he reverts back to the carb levels you recommend, he needs his meds again... - 2/25/2013 12:42:14 PM
  • I usually do 2 snacks a day. Between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner. If my day is light and I have calories to spare I do something sweet for dessert after dinner that won't make me go over on my calories. - 2/10/2013 4:03:07 PM
  • RONNIEB462
    I'm always looking for snacks that add variety to my program. The chart was helpful in doing this. Thanks, SparkPeople! - 10/5/2012 8:06:55 AM
  • My recent bloodwork showed a slightly raised fasting glucose level of 109. My husband is prediabetic and I want to know what some good choices of foods are. Chart containing amounts was helpful. - 9/9/2012 11:51:08 AM
  • Thanks for the article. It gave me some ideas. I don't plan for snacks. Like the person before me posted - I can't go for 5 hours so a snack is a great idea but I need to plan for it so I don't blow my hard work. I was tempted by donuts today ...instead I had pretzels and a slice of cheese. Progress not perfection. - 4/12/2012 4:15:39 PM
  • I notice that some of these suggested foods contain absorbinate amounts of artificial sweetners, high fructose corn syrup, and highly processed meats and cheeses that are very high in sodium content, none of which are good for your health! Some choices are good but there are better choices like fruits that give you natural sugars, snacks bars that have no hi-fructose corn syrups, and unprocessed meats or even a serving of pecans or almonds that are not high in the bad fats nor sodium content! - 4/12/2012 1:58:50 PM
  • This may not be the right place to post this, but why doesn't the menu give alternative foods to eat like the regular menu? At least give us options. we should be able to figure out the rest, but at least knowing what the healthy food choice are makes sense. I will probably switch back to the regular menu just so I can see those choices. - 3/25/2012 10:41:33 AM
  • I find it interesting to note that on the snack list and the link to the sample meal plan that there are very few vegetables, especially those that are low-energy high-nutrient (i.e. dark leafy greens) in the plans. How much better would be be if more of these were included in our meals plans in place of the "carbs" ones listed? - 12/2/2011 11:22:04 AM

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