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.

What to Eat: Diabetes-Friendly Snack Ideas
So how do you meet these calorie and nutrition goals in a healthful way? Here are several diabetes-friendly snack ideas that meet the nutritional criteria above. Select a snack that fits into your daily meal plan for calories and carbohydrates but also meets your personal taste preferences. Keep in mind that different foods and food combinations (carbs, protein and fat) affect every individual's blood sugar levels differently. The following chart merely shows some options, but you'll still need to monitor your blood sugar response and find the best food combinations for you.

Snack Carbs Calories Protein
Frozen fruit juice bar, 1.3 oz 11 g 45 1 g
Orange, small (2.5-inch diameter) 11 g 45 1 g
Light popcorn, 3 cups popped 12 g 60 2 g
1/2 sandwich, with 1 slice each bread and lunch meat and 1 oz cheese 13 g 149 15 g
3 saltine crackers with 1 oz cheese 13 g 172 9 g
Apple, small (2.5-inch diameter) 14 g 53 0 g
Sugar-free pudding, 3.7 oz container 14 g 60 2 g
2 graham cracker squares with 1 Tbsp peanut butter 14 g 153 5 g
2 light Wasa crackers with 1 large hard-boiled egg 15 g 138 8 g
3 saltine crackers with 1 Tbsp peanut butter 15 g 153 6 g
Mixed berries, 1 cup fresh or frozen 17 g 70 0 g
Pear, small (1/3 pound) 22 g 81 1 g
Pudding, 4 oz. container sweetened 24 g 130 1 g
Sandwich,  2 slices bread, 1 slice lunch meat and 1 oz cheese 25 g 204 16 g
6 saltine crackers with 1 oz cheese 25 g 231 10 g
Low-fat chocolate milk, 8 oz. 26 g 158 8 g
Light popcorn, 7 cups popped 28 g 140 4 g
6 saltine crackers with 1 Tbsp of peanut butter 28 g 212 7 g
5 graham cracker squares with 1 Tbsp peanut butter 30 g 242 6 g
Yogurt, 6 oz. container (low-fat, fruit-flavored) 33 g 174 7 g


If you have trouble selecting appropriate snacks or practicing portion control, pre-packaged meal replacements (including snack bars and shakes) can be a smart solution for some. In their Evidence Analysis Library, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) states that "Substituting one or two daily meals or snacks with meal replacements is a successful weight loss and weight maintenance strategy." Not all energy bars or weight-loss shakes will meet the needs of people with diabetes, so look for products designed specifically for diabetics, and be sure to read labels to determine if the product you're considering meets your nutritional needs.

Here are a few examples of daily eating schedules that include 1-3 snacks.

1 Snack Example 2 Snacks Example 3 Snacks Example
7 a.m.—Breakfast
12 p.m.—Lunch
5 p.m.—Dinner
9 p.m.—Snack
7 a.m. – Breakfast
12 p.m.—Lunch
3 p.m.—Snack
6:30 p.m.—Dinner
9 p.m.—Snack
6 a.m.—Breakfast
9 a.m.—Snack
12 p.m.—Lunch
3 p.m.—Snack
6 p.m.—Dinner
9 p.m.—Snack


As you can see, snacks can be especially beneficial for people with diabetes, and there really are endless options that can help you stay within your daily nutritional goals.

Source
Adult Weight Management Meal Replacements, American Dietetic Association Evidence Library, accessed September 2011.
Diabetes Care, January 2003.
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

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Member Comments

  • Music makes exercise possible!
  • Knowledge is power...This gives me a lot to think about along with the other comments made.
  • There are TERRIBLE snack recommendations for diabetics. I don't eat a single food on that list, and that's precisely why I lowered my A1C down from a 10.7 to 5.9 in only 4 months without any meds. Great diabetic friendly snacks include nuts, seeds, full fat cheese, veggies with full fat sour cream dip. Keep the fats, scrap the carbs.
  • DOGMANDAVE
    This is horrible information. People with diabetes don't need to be eating carbs more than a minimal amount from high-fiber, high-water-conten
    t vegetables like broccoli, etc. Look up Dr. Sarah Hallberg's work. She's the chief of the University of Indiana's weight-loss clinic, which should more accurately be called a diabetes clinic.
  • The old diabetic teaching of 45 or 60 carbs etc for each meal and so much for a snack is old info. Of course the amount of carbs you need is based on your size, but low carb works. First of all monitoring your blood sugars 2 hours post eating to see what your meals do to your blood sugar. Eat real food, read labels. the exercising and using weights also makes your body utilize glucose much more efficiently.
  • AHIMSA417
    When I saw 'frozen fruit juice bar', all I could think about were those triangular pouches they used to serve at school. I think they may have been welches. Now those sound so freaking good!
  • For me, I need protein with the carb, or my sugar is higher after a snack or meal. I have journals that speak volumes that it does help. Protein means less insulin, and that is worth it to me.
  • I took the classes by a certified Nutritionist and they say for a woman they should consume up to 43 grams of carbs per meal and then should have 3 snacks a day with 0-30 grams of carbs. She also said you can eat anything you want but you need to make sure it is in the carb range. Your supposed to eat a lot it's what keeps everything under control. Exercise and drinking water is a big key as well. It has been awhile since I have taken the classes but have had major weight loss success following the diabetic diet. For a man they are supposed to have 60 grams of carbs per meal and 0-30 for a snack. I am retaking the classes next year as well. It is recommended that a person with diabetes takes a set of classes once per year usually there are 4 classes in a set.
  • 20- 30 is what a diabetic should have in a day. And sugar kills. Fruit should be low carb and limited. Cheese, boiled eggs, dill pickle slice are better choices.
  • My husband I are both diabetic. He eats whatever he wants and seems to do fine, with the exception of occasional high levels. I, on the other hand, try to eat correctly, haven't quite figured it out yet. I'm here on SP hoping to figure it out. I eat breakfast usually around 5:45, have to be at work at 7, get a 15 minute break around 10,(depending on my workload), and I'm off at 12, and we eat dinner around 5:15. I try to eat something healthy for snack but having trouble with portion control. I usually eat a snack before bedtime cause I go to bed around 11. When I check my levels in the morning they are 140-150, which is not bad but most of the time its 100-115. It's just so frustrating trying to figure this out.
  • Working on breaking the ingrained belief that snacking is "bad."
  • 1BOBBBI_60
    I eat my meals @....6:30am....10
    am....12pm...
    .2pm....5pm....7pm
  • I'm a 3pm snacker - i get bone tired at that time, but a snack doesn't really do the trick, because then I get bored. Working on it. 8-)
  • always looking for good snack ideas
  • 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.

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.

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