Smart snacking when you have diabetes

There’s nothing like a sweet or salty treat between meals. You know, something just to “tide you over” until lunch or supper.

The problem is that most of us don’t snack on things that are good for us. (We’re looking at you, potato chips!) And when you have diabetes, making the right snack choices takes on even greater importance so as to avoid spikes in your blood sugar.

While making healthy decisions for snack time may seem like a daunting task, it’s actually not too difficult. And the good news is that help is available.

First step: Consult a dietitian

“While general dietary guidelines are pretty consistent for people with diabetes, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why it’s important to get a doctor’s referral to a dietitian,” said Rebecca Copeland, a registered dietitian at OSF HealthCare. “A dietitian can provide snacking guidance that takes all factors into consideration, including body type, medical status, taste preferences, economic limitations, culinary skills, etc.”

Something many people might find surprising is that snacking is actually recommended for people with diabetes.

“The carbohydrates we eat are converted to glucose – or sugar – by our bodies. And for a person with diabetes, we don’t want to starve ourselves all day, get super hungry and then have a big glucose dump all at one time in a single meal,” Rebecca said. “Instead, we want to keep meals and snacks on the small to moderate size and eat more frequently throughout the day – about every two to three hours. This prevents us from getting overly hungry and overeating.”

Snack foods to avoid

While Rebecca says that it’s important for folks with diabetes to not completely abstain from entire food groups, there are certain foods to stay away from. This includes snack foods that you’d typically find at gas stations, such as:

  • Candy
  • Sugary drinks (soda, juice, sports drinks, etc.)
  • Potato and corn chips
  • Meat sticks

“The type of carbohydrate in a sugary drink is what we call a simple sugar, which elevates the blood sugar quickly because there’s nothing to slow it down from getting into our blood stream,” Rebecca said. “That being said, a sugary drink like juice is actually a useful tool in cases where someone with diabetes needs to quickly raise their blood sugar to a normal level. But aside from that, it’s not recommended that you drink your carbs.”

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People with diabetes are usually at higher risk for developing heart disease, which is why it’s important to avoid things like potato chips and meat sticks. These foods are usually high in sodium and saturated fat, which can increase the risk for heart disease. They may also be high in carbs without much nutritional value.

Crackers made with refined flour also fall into this high-carb, low-nutrition category. Refined flour has been stripped of all its fiber, vitamins and minerals. Without fiber, it’s digested very quickly, causing your blood sugar to spike.

Snack foods to enjoy

If all the foods mentioned so far are the ones you’ve loved your whole life, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, what on earth can I snack on?” The answer rests in a balanced mix of carbs from good sources, protein and healthy fat, which can be found in a number of foods, including:

  • Cheese
  • Fruit
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lean meats
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables

“It’s best to eat a combination of these food groups when you snack,” Rebecca said. “The fiber, protein and healthy fat found in them will help you feel full longer. They also slow the body’s digestion of carbohydrates, which will keep your blood sugar level stable.”

A few recommended combinations include:

  • Apple slices or celery sticks with peanut butter
  • Carrots with hummus
  • Cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Tuna salad with whole wheat bread
  • Yogurt with berries

With regard to portion sizes, see your food’s nutrition label. And if you don’t have a label or measuring cup when eating nuts and seeds, a good rule of thumb is that a portion is generally whatever fits in the palm of your hand.

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About Author: Luke Legner

Luke Legner is a writing coordinator at OSF HealthCare. He joined the Ministry in April 2021 after several years working in corporate communications in the heavy equipment industry. A Pontiac native, he graduated from Illinois State University in 2002 where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.

Luke and his wife, Ashley, reside in Bloomington and have one son and two daughters. When he’s not tackling a home improvement project, you can usually find Luke watching his beloved Chicago Cubs or The Andy Griffith Show.

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Categories: Diabetes, Diet & Exercise