Eating with Diabetes: Smart Snacking

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

This article is 8 YEARS OLD!!!!!!

There has been new research on treating diabetes. Instead of republishing OLD articles with OUTDATED information, Sparkpeople owes its members current information.

Eating carbs by themselves raises blood sugar. A friend of mine who has been diabetic for years, told me that her doctor told her to ALWAYS pair a protein with carbs for snacks. One of her favorite - healthy - snacks is a sliced apple with peanut butter. She would never snack on crackers, rice cakes, ice pops (all sugar, no nutrients). Report
Good article with good information. Report
JWCOLBY
It is sad that Becky is our dietitian for the site. She knows nothing about diabetes. I do because I have studied it intently! Because Becky was killing me.

For 98% of us, the cause of diabetes is eating too many CARBS. Science not bunk. Read on to learn the truth.

I "am" diabetic. My A1C was 12.2 when diagnosed. I was put on Metformin and sent home with the tired old "Eat less / exercise more / lose weight / it's all your fault" nonsense. I tell you this because I was killing myself and the medical establishment was assisting my suicide (by Carbs) . There is hope however, read on!

High blood glucose is a SYMPTOM of diabetes, it is not the disease itself. BEING FAT is a SYMPTOM of high blood glucose, but more importantly a symptom of HIGH INSULIN levels.

Diabetes is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is CAUSED BY, in 98% of the cases, eating high levels of carbohydrates. Science not bunk. Here's the REAL DEAL...

1) When you eat sugar (and non-fiber carbs are just sugar to the body), that sugar gets into your blood stream within an hour. Insulin levels spike to cause the body to do something with that sugar. The cells of your body cannot deal with all that sugar, but the insulin is forcing the cells to take it in. Since the cells cannot use it, they turn it into fat for use at a later time.

So eating cookies, crackers, pies, cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, pizza, breads etc. (the typical american diet) CAUSES BLOOD GLUCOSE SPIKES. Which CAUSES insulin to spike. This is a direct cause / effect relationship here. Science not bunk.

2) Now you eat more carbs a few hours later. You are advised to eat "six small meals a day" right? And the advice is to eat CARBS right? So a few hours later, while your blood glucose levels are still above normal, you eat MORE CARBS. Which gets in the blood immediately, causing insulin to spike, causing the sugar to get in the cells, which can't use it and so turn it into FAT.

Are we seeing a pattern here? Have you seen ANYTHING about the fat coming back out of the cells to be u... Report
JWCOLBY
Diabetes is caused by eating too many CARBS. Science not bunk. Read on to learn the truth.

I "am" diabetic. My A1C was 12.2 when diagnosed. I was put on Metformin and sent home with the tired old "Eat less / exercise more / lose weight / it's all your fault" nonsense. I tell you this because I was killing myself and the medical establishment (and Becky Hand) was assisting my suicide (by Carbs) .

High blood glucose is a SYMPTOM of diabetes, it is not the disease itself. BEING FAT is a SYMPTOM of high blood glucose, but more importantly a symptom of HIGH INSULIN levels.

Diabetes is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is CAUSED BY, in 98% of the cases, eating high levels of carbohydrates. Science not bunk. Here's the REAL DEAL...

1) When you eat sugar (and non-fiber carbs are just sugar to the body), that sugar gets into your blood stream within an hour. Insulin levels spike to cause the body to do something with that sugar. The cells of your body cannot deal with all that sugar, but the insulin is forcing the cells to take it in. Since the cells cannot use it, they turn it into fat for use at a later time.

So eating cookies, crackers, pies, cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, pizza, breads etc. (the typical american diet) CAUSES BLOOD GLUCOSE SPIKES. Which CAUSES insulin to spike. This is a direct cause / effect relationship here. Science not bunk.

2) Now you eat more carbs a few hours later. You are advised to eat "six small meals a day" right? And the advice is to eat CARBS right? So a few hours later, while your blood glucose levels are still above normal, you eat MORE CARBS. Which gets in the blood immediately, causing insulin to spike, causing the sugar to get in the cells, which can't use it and so turn it into FAT.

Are we seeing a pattern here? Have you seen ANYTHING about the fat coming back out of the cells to be used by the body for energy? Nope! So you eat more carbs, more high insulin, more fat stored. Ad Nauseum day after day, week after week, year after year and soon you look like a FAT WALRUS lying on... Report
Good article but that Amy's advice with caution, just like she said. Report
not useful. sugar is sugar, no matter what form. Report
Several years ago the ADA did a study and it found that there is no difference in how the body uses sugar from refined sugars,( aka table sugar) and sugar from Carbs. To the body sugar is sugar. The best bet is to go by how you feel and what your meter says.

Do your own mini study, for two weeks take your sugars randomly, (you should anyway) But take it premeal, 2 hours post meal, in between, before bed, and even if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night. ( I know that is weird but you'll see what your sugars are up to.)

The best snacks are things like nuts,( maybe granola bars or Fiber bars, yes the fiber bars have a few more carbs than you might want in a snack, but it's offset by the fiber content.) For instance if a Fiber bar has 24 carbs, and 9 grams of fiber, take at least half of that 9 off of the 24,( fiber does not remain in the body, it passes through) That will take the 24 grams of carbs down to 19 or 20, which IS a bit better, some even have protein, which is always a good thing. Maybe a small apple, and if you are at home, add a small smear of peanut butter.

So the best thing is to read the labels, maybe instead of a whole portion, a half portion will do. Watch the fat intake as well as the carbs. And if you fall, don't beat yourself up over it, just pick up and go from there. Report
what a mess Report
JWCOLBY
Understand that Amy's advice is deadly to diabetics. If you want to die of kidney failure, lose your toes to amputation, and experience all of the other ugly complications of diabetes the absolute best way is to use this nonsense advice. If you would like to cure your diabetes, yes I said CURE your diabetes then you will want to educate yourself.

https://youtu.b
e/mAwgdX5VxGc

Your choice, listen to a dietitian spreading death to diabetics or learn from a kidney doctor who is dedicated to CURING diabetes in order to save your life. Report
... interesting...tha
t snack chart would only be useful in the event my sugar dropped to a very low level... Report
Snacking on fruit and crackers....might as well eat a candy bar. Sugar is sugar. Report
Thanks! Report
The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning. Pele Report
Good info for everyone Report
Wow. The snack chart idea is a good one, but.......I've been working really hard to eliminate just about everything on that chart. Why is the health community STILL advocating grains and high sugar foods??? I typically reach for a protein/good fat/veggie combo that is full of nutrition not an empty processed carb. Things I make it a point to have on hand are: nuts, minimally processed chicken or turkey lunchmeat, radishes, olives, grape tomatoes, artichokes, cheese, tuna, pickles, cucumbers, and also a small portion of leftovers works too. Report


 

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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