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Eating with Diabetes: Smart Snacking

20 Diabetes-Friendly Snack Ideas

-- By Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

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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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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