10 Tips for Smart Diabetic-Friendly Snacking

By American Diabetes Association

Planning your meals is an important part of successful diabetes management. But what about snacks? Can they be part of a diabetes meal plan? Absolutely! Snacks can be a great way to curb your appetite and fit more nutritious foods into your meal plan. Not everyone needs to include snacks in their diabetes meal plan, but there are several reasons why having a snack or two each day may be right for you. You may want to consider adding a snack to your meal plan if you’re prone to episodes of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) or you have a long stretch between meals.

The key to including snacks in your meal plan is making healthy choices and paying attention to the amount of carbohydrate you eat at snack time. Even a small snack can contain a lot of carbohydrate, so be sure to account for that.

This list helps you make the most of your snacks. Even if you don’t typically need a snack but you’re having one of those days where you need something extra to munch on, it’s important to make healthy choices. We now present ten tips for better snacks and take a look at some nutritious snack options!

Talk to Your Dietitian

A registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), diabetes educator, or other diabetes care professional will be your go-to resource for all your healthy eating and meal planning needs. It’s important to discuss any changes to your eating patterns with your dietitian, and adding snacks to your meal plan is no exception. Before you begin snacking, consult your dietitian to make sure that including a snack in your meal plan is the best option for you. In some cases, your dietitian may suggest including snacks in your meal plan based on your eating habits, physical activity level, or diabetes goals.

If there is a specific reason why you need a snack, share that reason with your dietitian. Maybe your work schedule means you have to wait several hours between lunch and dinner. Or maybe you’ve noticed that your blood glucose level is low around the same time each day. It’s important to discuss this information with your dietitian so he or she can make sure your meal plan meets your needs.

If snacks are included in your meal plan, your dietitian can also help you figure out how many grams of carbohydrate will work for you. Some people may be able to eat about 15 grams of carbohydrate per snack; others may need more or less. If you don’t use carbohydrate counting, your dietitian may be able to give you some examples of the kinds of snacks that are right for you.

Carbohydrate is the nutrient in foods like breads, pastas, grains, fruits, and vegetables that is directly responsible for causing your blood glucose level to rise after eating. It’s important for all people with diabetes to be aware of their carbohydrate intake.

Choose Your Snacks Wisely

When it comes to snack foods, people often think of salty or sweet foods like potato chips and dip, pretzels, cookies, and candy. These kinds of snack foods are often high in carbohydrate and may have a lot of added sugar, sodium, and fat. They aren’t the best options for most people.

Luckily, there are many nutritious snack options that people with diabetes can enjoy. Think of your snacks as an opportunity to add even more nutrients to your day. Opt for nutritious whole foods — such as nonstarchy vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts (look for nuts that are low in sodium), or low-fat dairy products — over highly processed snacks.

Some light nutritious snack options that contain about 5 grams of carbohydrate or less include

  • 5 baby carrots
  • 5 cherry tomatoes or 1 cup of cucumber slices with 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing
  • 3 celery sticks and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 10 goldfish crackers
  • 1 light string cheese

A few heartier options with about 15–20 grams of carbohydrate include

  • 3 cups of light popcorn
  • 1 small apple
  • 1⁄3 cup of hummus and 1 cup of raw veggies
  • 5 whole-wheat crackers and 1 light string cheese
  • 1/2 turkey sandwich (made with 1 slice whole-wheat bread and 2 slices of turkey)
  • 1/2 peanut butter sandwich (made with 1 slice whole wheat bread and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter)
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit and nut mix

Watch Your Portions

Practicing portion control is an important part of any diabetes meal plan and should extend to any snacks you eat. Eating the right portion sizes for you when you snack is the key to maintaining blood glucose in your target range and avoiding unwanted weight gain.

Make sure you pay attention to the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label when snacking. If you eat double the serving size listed on the label, you’re also doubling the amount of calories, carbohydrate, and other nutrients you’re consuming.

Use measuring cups and spoons to verify serving sizes. It’s easy to serve yourself a few extra goldfish crackers or an extra tablespoon of peanut butter if you’re estimating your servings by sight. Your eyes can be deceiving!

Avoid Mindless Eating

Have you ever curled up on the couch to watch a movie with a big bowl of popcorn or a box of your favorite cookies, and before you even realized it, the bowl or box was empty? Snacking while you’re distracted can lead to overeating, especially if a full bag, box, or bowl of food is in front of you.

Try not to eat in front of the television or computer screen, or while reading or scrolling through your phone. It’s even easy to overeat at your desk at work. Here are a few other tips to help you avoid mindless eating:

  • Focus on chewing each mouthful of food at least ten times before swallowing, and try to pay attention to each bite. Eating slower may help you realize that you’re full sooner.
  • Enjoy your snacks in a distraction-free environment. For example, try eating your snacks at your kitchen table or in the break room at work. Taking a few minutes away from your desk or your responsibilities at home to enjoy a snack may even leave you feeling refreshed and ready to get back to your day.
  • Pay attention to how you feel. As you’re eating, try to pay attention to your body’s signals to help you become more aware of when you’re full. It can take over 15 minutes after eating for you to feel full.
  • Don’t skip meals. Try to eat your meals around the same time each day so you won’t feel hungry and be tempted to overeat at snack time.
  • Portion out your snacks instead of eating out of the box or bag. Place one serving of your snack food in a bowl or on a plate before you eat it. You’ll be less tempted to overindulge if you don’t have more than one serving in front of you. When you purchase snack foods like crackers, nuts, or dried fruit, try to portion them out and put each serving of the food into a small resealable plastic bag so you can easily grab just the right amount when you need it.

Stock Up on Healthy Options

When you’re feeling hungry, it’s easy to reach for foods that are less than healthy. You may be tempted at snack time to grab your favorite processed food just because it’s quick and familiar, or you may find yourself eating foods from a vending machine at work or a fast-food restaurant just because these foods are convenient. One way to prevent yourself from grabbing these foods is to make sure you always have healthy snack options on hand.

Make sure you include healthy snacks on your grocery list. Planning your snacks is just as important as planning your meals. Try to select snacks from the perimeter of the grocery store — where you’ll find foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat dairy products — rather than the aisles, which are full of processed foods.

Take nutritious snacks with you when you’re on the go! If you have a desk at work, store a few nonperishable snacks in a drawer to have on hand. Or keep a serving of crackers or even a healthy granola bar in your purse or in your car for those days when you forget to pack a snack. If you plan ahead and make sure you have healthy foods at your fingertips, you’ll be less likely to choose unhealthy snacks.

Be Selfish with Your Snacks

Have you ever bought something for yourself at the grocery store only to realize a few days later that someone else has eaten it? If you have children, a spouse, or a roommate, this scenario probably sounds all too familiar to you.

Sometimes, others can get to the healthy snacks before you do, leaving you with limited options when it’s time to eat a snack. Don’t be afraid to make sure you have the nutritious foods you need. Stock up on your favorite healthy snack foods so you have enough for the whole family — everyone can benefit from snacking healthier! At work, don’t be shy about labeling any snacks you leave in the break room so you’ll have them when you need them.

Snacks for Low Blood Glucose

If you’re prone to low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), then your dietitian may have already recommended that you include snacks in your meal plan to prevent your blood glucose levels from dropping too low (a blood glucose reading below 70 mg/dL). But what can you eat during an episode of hypoglycemia to bring your blood glucose levels back to the normal range?

Many people find it convenient to carry glucose tablets or gels with them for treating lows. But if you start feeling the symptoms of low blood glucose unexpectedly — for example, shakiness, dizziness, hunger/nausea, sweating, chills, weakness, and mood swings — and don’t have glucose on hand, you need to know what you can eat or drink. Your normal snacks may not be appropriate for treating low blood glucose, especially if they contain protein or fat (which may increase the time it takes for the carbohydrate to raise your blood glucose and provide unnecessary calories). Instead, you’ll want to consume 15–20 grams of simple carbohydrate, which are digested quickly. Good options with about 15 grams of carbohydrate include

  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • 4 or 5 saltine crackers
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar, honey, or corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup of juice or regular soda (not diet)

If you suspect that your blood glucose is low, first use a blood glucose meter to confirm low blood glucose. Once confirmed, follow these steps to treat the low:

  1. Consume 15–20 grams of simple carbohydrate.
  2. Recheck your blood glucose after 15 minutes.
  3. Repeat this process until your blood glucose level returns to normal.

After an episode of low blood glucose, you’ll want to eat a small, healthy snack if your next meal is still a few hours away.

Snack before a Big Meal or Event

Holidays, birthdays, and big family events can be tricky situations for people with diabetes. Events like these often feature less than healthy foods in large quantities, making it very easy to overindulge, especially if you arrive to the party on an empty stomach. Having a light, healthy snack — just enough to prevent you from feeling starved — before going to a big party may help satisfy your hunger so you’re less tempted to eat too much at the party and you can make food choices with a clear head. If you’re not starving, you may be more inclined to take a few moments and consider the healthiest options available to you when you arrive at the event.

Think Outside the Box

Snacks don’t have to be boring just because you have diabetes. Try to avoid processed foods that are high in calories, carbohydrate, and sodium, but you don’t have to snack on celery sticks or a rice cakes every day. Get creative! If you have leftovers from dinner the night before, portion out a small amount (based on the snack guidelines you discuss with your dietitian) and enjoy!

You can also use diabetes-friendly recipes, like the recipes in this book, to your advantage. Light and tasty appetizers and nonstarchy vegetable side dishes can be excellent snacks when eaten in the right portion size. You can make diabetes-friendly dishes as a snack for the whole family, or enjoy one serving and save the rest to snack on later in the week. Just make sure you watch your portion sizes!

Don’t Deprive Yourself

It’s important to choose healthy snack options if you have diabetes. But if there is a snack food that you absolutely love, you don’t have to cut it out of your life completely just because it’s a little too high in calories or carbohydrate. You don’t have to deprive yourself of the foods you love because you have diabetes. Adjusting to a diabetes meal plan can sometimes feel restricting or overwhelming, so it’s important to find ways to enjoy the foods you love. Indulging in your favorite foods now and then can certainly fit into a healthy meal plan. Talk to your dietitian or provider if you’re struggling with cravings and food choices.