The best snacks for diabetics
Eating snacks between meals can stop your blood glucose levels from falling too low. And if you eat regular but small meals, this can also be a more effective way to manage your diabetes than eating a few large meals. Unfortunately choosing the right snacks is not always easy when you have diabetes, especially as most snack foods are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Or all three.
To help you make the right choices here we explain what type of snacks are best for diabetics. We also give you a helping hand with our 20 favorite diabetes-friendly snacks and explain what type of snacks diabetics should avoid.
Understanding how food affects diabetes
Eating to manage your blood sugar
Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body deals with the food and drink you consume. It is also affected by factors like your body weight, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol levels. Making the right diet choices is therefore crucial. Whether you have type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or another form of diabetes. The main issue caused by your condition is that your body does not absorb as much glucose from your blood as it should. This causes glucose to build up in your blood to harmful levels.
The aim of your diet should be to avoid foods that release glucose quickly, thus preventing fast rises of blood glucose. Spikes in blood glucose can also be followed by sharp falls in blood glucose, particularly if you take a diabetic medication shortly before or after eating. This can put you at risk of hypoglycemia.
Eating to stop insulin resistance
Diabetes affects your diet, but your diet can also affect your diabetes. Being overweight, having high blood pressure, low levels of good cholesterol, and high levels of bad cholesterol and other blood fats (triglycerides) are all type 2 diabetes risk factors. They can make it more likely you will develop type 2 diabetes and can make existing type 2 diabetes worse.
It is thought that these risk factors make your body become increasingly resistant to insulin, so the insulin your body produces stops working as well. Insulin resistance can also be a problem if you have type 1 diabetes.
This means that maintaining healthy body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood fat levels can help you manage both type 2 and type 1 diabetes.
What to consider when choosing a snack?
Because of the link between diet and diabetes, when choosing a snack, you want food or drink that:
- Is low in sugar to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels
- Is high in fiber, as this slows down digestion and causes glucose to be released more gradually
- Is high in protein, as protein is filling and can cut hunger pangs
- Is low in calories, to prevent weight gain
- Is low in saturated fat, to prevent weight gain and high bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Is low in salt (sodium), to prevent rises in blood pressure
- Is nutritious, to make sure your body is getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs
- Is fun to eat, because snacking should be fun as well as sensible
It is of course a tall order to tick all these boxes, but the more goals a snack hits, the better. Here are 20 snacks we have selected to help you meet as many of these goals as possible:
Our top 20 snack ideas for diabetics
A handful of almonds
Almonds are a quick and simple snack that can help with diabetes. Research has shown that regularly eating almonds can help lower blood sugar levels and circulate insulin in people with diabetes.
Almonds are also rich in nutrients, protein, and healthy monounsaturated fats. They are quite high in calories however, so only eat a small handful as a portion and make sure you stick to unsweetened and unsalted nuts.
Hardboiled eggs with horseradish
Make your own deviled eggs by halving hard-boiled eggs and adding a teaspoon of horseradish on top to give them some kick.
Eggs are a true superfood. They are packed with nutrients, high in protein, low in carbs and sugar, and are filling. Using horseradish rather than mayonnaise adds extra taste but avoids the saturated fat found in mayonnaise. A single egg delivers around 150 calories however, so stick to one or two at a time.
Cheese on wholegrain crackers
A classic snack that is quick to prepare and tastes great. Cheese is also high in protein and can satisfy a hungry belly, but always opt for lower-fat cheeses and cheeses without added salt. Make sure the crackers are wholegrain and do not contain refined flour and added sugar that can cause blood sugar spikes.
Sliced apple with peanut butter
Slice up an apple with the skin still on and add a couple of teaspoons of peanut butter to spread onto the apple slices for a quick and tasty snack.
Apples are high in nutrients and fiber, whilst low in calories. Peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy unsaturated fat. Importantly, it is also tasty and filling.
A bowl of popcorn
If you make the right choice, popcorn can be a low-calorie snack that can also pack a respectable amount of fiber. Because popcorn is low in calories but high in volume, it can fill your stomach too and stave off hunger pangs.
Make sure you opt for low-fat, low-sugar, and low-salt popcorn that does not have any added flavors or ingredients. Best of all, buy raw corn kernels to pop yourself at home.
Greek yogurt with berries
A small bowl of Greek yogurt with added berries (fresh or frozen) can make a tasty and satisfying snack.
Greek yogurt is lower in sugar than flavored yogurts and higher in protein than other natural yogurts, meaning it can curb your hunger more effectively. Berries are high in fiber, nutritious, low in calories, and add taste and variety to the yogurt.
A bowl of edamame
Edamame beans are soybeans still in the pod. You buy them in frozen bags and cook them simply by boiling until the pods begin to split open for a tasty, diabetes-friendly snack.
Edamame beans are low in calories but high in fiber and nutrients. In Japanese restaurants, edamame beans are served sprinkled in salt, but avoid doing this at home to protect your blood pressure.
You can roast chickpeas yourself at home with added seasoning like paprika, but you can also buy a range of brands of ready-made, diabetes-friendly roasted chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas are crunchy, tasty, and make a great alternative to chips.
Chickpeas are high in fiber and protein, making them filling despite being relatively low in calories. Research has also shown that regularly eating chickpeas can lower your blood sugar too.
Vegetables dipped in hummus
Continuing with chickpeas (hummus is a dip made from chickpeas), hummus can be a good source of protein and fiber if you choose your brand carefully. Combine it with sliced vegetables, like raw carrot, cucumber, and peppers, and you are adding nutrients and even more fiber.
You can make hummus at home or you can buy ready-made hummus. Always check the label to make sure you buy hummus without added salt or sugar.
A handful of olives
Olives make a quick and simple snack that is high in fiber and nutrients. Olives are also high in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to help reduce blood sugar levels over time.
Olives come in a wide range of colors and flavors, so have enough variety to keep them interesting. They can be relatively high in calories, so limit yourself to a small handful at a time.
Caprese salad is a simple but tasty Italian salad that takes minutes to prepare. Layer slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese across a plate, add basil leaves, then drizzle over a small amount of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar, and you are good to go.
Tomatoes and basil are low in calories but nutritious, olive oil contains healthy monounsaturated fats, whilst mozzarella is relatively low in calories, fat, and salt as far as cheese goes. They combine to make a healthy, filling, visually appealing snack.
You can find a wide range of jerkies in your supermarket today. And whilst they all tend to be low in sugar and carbs, and high in protein, salmon jerky also contains important omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce the risk of some complications of diabetes.
All jerkies can be high in salt, so whatever form you buy, try to buy a reduced salt alternative and eat only a few strips at a time.
Cottage cheese with fruit
Cottage cheese is low in sugar, carbs, fat and calories, but high in protein, making it a perfect food for diabetics. You can liven cottage cheese up and add more fiber and nutrients by adding fruit like berries, kiwi, pineapple, or slices of mango.
A wholegrain waffle with cinnamon and Greek yogurt
Wholegrain waffles are a healthier alternative to regular waffles. The wholegrain they contain is a more complex carbohydrate that is digested slower and releases glucose into your blood gradually.
Greek yogurt can add protein to your waffles as well as provide a complimentary texture. A sprinkling of cinnamon adds some taste but without added sugar or fat. Cinnamon is great for diabetes in particular, as research suggests it can help lower blood sugar over time.
Peanut butter and sugar-free jelly on whole grain bread
You can still eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if you have diabetes, just make sure you use wholegrain bread and sugar-free jelly.
Wholegrain bread is made from complex carbohydrates, so releases sugar slowly into your blood. Sugar-free jelly is a diabetic-friendly alternative to regular sugar-filled jelly.
Dark chocolate covered rice cakes
Sometimes when you crave a snack, you crave something sweet. Make sure you have some dark chocolate-covered rice cakes at hand for these occasions.
Dark chocolate contains less sugar and fat than white or milk chocolate and contains higher levels of healthy cocoa and antioxidants. Rice cakes are low in calories, but bulky which can help to fill your stomach and curb feelings of hunger.
Sugar-free hot chocolate
If you have a craving for chocolate, you can find plenty of sugar-free hot chocolate brands at your supermarket. A cup of sugar-free hot chocolate can satisfy your chocolate cravings but without sugar and fat.
Fruit or mint-flavored water
You might not think of water as a snack, but dehydration can create pangs that are mistaken for hunger. A glass of water can therefore stop you from eating unnecessarily. Staying properly hydrated is also important for diabetics, as dehydration can increase your blood sugar concentration as well as put a strain on your body.
You can add flavor to glasses of water by dropping in slices of fruit, like lemon or lime, or crushed mint leaves.
A cup of tea
Tea can help keep you hydrated and cut feelings of hunger. Some teas are also rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.
Good teas for diabetics include:
- Green tea
- Black tea without milk
- Black tea with low-fat milk or vegan milk
- Herbal teas
- Fruit teas that have no added sugar or sweeteners
A cup of coffee
Coffee tastes so good it surely cannot be good for you too. Fortunately, it is. Coffee has high levels of a range of phytonutrients whilst caffeine can also reduce hunger.
Whilst it was once thought that coffee increased insulin resistance, it is now thought that it is the cream, full-fat milk, sugar, syrups, and other sweeteners that are put into coffee that are responsible. To keep your cup of joe diabetes-friendly, take it black, with low-fat milk or vegan milk only. Do not be tempted to add any syrups or sweeteners.
What snacks should diabetics avoid?
You should avoid snacks high in sugar and simple carbohydrates that can cause spikes and crashes in your blood glucose. Simple carbohydrates are made from refined grains, like white rice and white flour.
You also need to steer clear of snacks that are high in saturated fats and salt, as these can contribute to insulin resistance. Stay away from:
Snacks high in sugar
The following snacks can cause spikes and crashes in your blood glucose:
- Ice cream
- Soda and other sugary beverages, including coffee with sugar and syrups
- Fruit juice
- High sugar dairy, such as fruit-flavored yogurts
Snacks high in simple/refined carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates (also sometimes called refined carbohydrates) are digested quickly and rapidly release glucose into your blood. Snacks high in simple carbohydrates include:
- Sandwiches made with white bread
- Wraps made with white tortillas
Snacks high in saturated fat and salt
Saturated fat is associated with high levels of bad cholesterol, high blood fat levels, and weight gain. Eating too much salt can also raise your blood pressure. Try to avoid:
- Fast food, like slices of pizza
- Any snacks that are fried, like French fries or churros
- Snacks that contain red meat, like burgers
- Processed meat, like hotdogs, sausages, and bacon
- Full-fat dairy, like full-fat yogurt, cheese, and milk
Snacks for diabetics FAQs
Can diabetics snack between meals?
If you have diabetes, eating snacks between meals can help you avoid falls in blood sugar and can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
However, you need to avoid snacks that are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, to prevent spikes in blood sugar that can sabotage an otherwise diabetes-friendly diet. You should also avoid snacks that are high in salt and saturated fat, as these can contribute to insulin resistance. Aim for snacks that are nutritious and filling as well as high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
What snacks can diabetics eat at night?
Eating a snack before bed can help to stop your blood sugar from falling too low as you sleep and can help prevent the dawn effect where your blood glucose levels rise quickly when you wake. Try not to overeat before bed, to avoid blood sugar spikes and weight gain. Aim for snacks that are digested slowly and release glucose into your blood gradually.
Is peanut butter good for diabetics?
Yes. Generally, peanut butter is a good food choice for diabetics. Peanut butter is high in protein and healthy fats. It also tastes great and can liven up other foods like fruit. However, peanut butter is relatively high in calories, so you should limit yourself to a couple of teaspoons per serving. Not all peanut butter is equal too – make sure you buy a brand that does not have added salt or sugar.
Is watermelon good for diabetics?
Fruits are low in calories and nutrient-rich, and fresh fruit can make a healthy and convenient snack. Fruit can be high in sugar, but the fiber in fruit slows down how quickly the sugar is digested and released into your blood.
The carbohydrates and sugars in watermelon are broken down quickly for fruit. You may have heard that watermelon can cause spikes in blood glucose. The reality is that small amounts of watermelon likely will not cause unhealthy rises in blood glucose, but it is sensible to eat watermelon in small amounts until you know how your body reacts to it.
Is oatmeal good for diabetics?
Oatmeal is high in carbohydrates, leading people to worry that all those carbs will be quickly broken down to glucose. However, the oats in good quality oatmeal are a source of complex carbohydrates that are broken down slowly. The fiber content of oatmeal also slows how quickly glucose is released through digestion. Oatmeal is fine for diabetics in small portions of good quality oatmeal. Not instant oatmeal with added sugar. Never add sugar, honey, or other sweeteners to oatmeal. Add fresh fruit, berries, or cinnamon instead.
Is honey good for diabetics?
Whilst honey is sometimes treated as a healthier alternative to sugar, the unfortunate truth is it is not. Honey is a source of sugar just like granulated sugar. It helps to think of honey as liquid sugar that can cause rapid rises in blood glucose. If you have diabetes it is advisable to steer clear of honey, syrup, agave nectar, and other sources of sugar.
Finding the right snack choices for you
Making the right snack choices can help you manage your diabetes. Bear in mind however that food affects people differently, so you may have to experiment to find the best snacks for you. Your diet is important, but it is only one part of living with diabetes. You can make other positive lifestyle changes that help (like getting regular exercise and drinking alcohol in moderation), but medications are central to controlling and living with your diabetes.
Read more about diabetes medications with NiceRx. Learn more about insulin and the top four diabetes medications:
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