“Don’t eat between meals.” That’s one piece of advice people with diabetes might want to talk to their doctor or a registered dietitian about, says Sacha Uelmen, RD, managing director of diabetes education & nutrition for the American Diabetes Association. While snacking was a way to keep your blood sugar steady years ago, today’s snacking recommendations depend on the medication you take, what time you eat meals, and your weight goals, she explains. What’s more important: “Finding the right portions and balance of foods—including carb, protein, and fat—spaced evenly throughout the day for your personal lifestyle and activity level is what will do the most to keep blood glucose fluctuations to a minimum.” And remember, stress, lack of sleep, and how much exercise you get in a day can also affect blood sugar levels.
If your health provider does recommend snacks, keep the following in mind (and then check out these 12 rules to keep your blood sugar steady):
1. Keep your snacks to 150 calories or less. The danger of snacks is that they can become more like extra meals if you go overboard. First, make sure you’re truly hungry—and not just bored or stressed or craving chocolate—before reaching for a snack. Then limit yourself to 150 calories per snack. And while the ingredients of what you’re eating matters, it does depend on your ultimate goal, says Uelmen. “Some people snack because they don’t eat large meals—and if increasing calories or food intake is the goal, ingredients may be more of a focus. But if someone is trying to lose weight and is hungry all the time, better to aim for snacks that are lower in calories and higher in volume, like vegetables or popcorn.”
2. Beware of low-fat snacks. “They may not have the same calories, but typically if you take out the fat, you add carbs or sodium,” says Uelmen. And since the low-fat option may not be as satisfying, it may be better to eat a smaller portion of the full-fat kind: “Not that ice cream is a fantastic snack, but oftentimes people will eat low-fat ice cream and eat many more calories than if they just ate a small portion of regular ice cream that they enjoy,” she adds. Here are some healthy snack ideas.
3. Plate your snacks. Eat straight out of the bag and you’re guaranteed to eat more, whether it’s chips, pretzels, or cookies. Instead, put a small portion on a plate, seal up the bag and put it away, and then sit down and enjoy your snack.
4. Grab the whole bag. A single serving bag, that is. You’re much more likely to stop after one serving if you don’t have to measure it out yourself. If paying more for extra packaging that will eventually clog landfills bothers you, separate the snacks yourself into reusable single-serving containers when you get home from the grocery store so they’re ready to grab when you’re ready to eat them. Bonus: “Portioning out snack foods into single servings that meet your personal calorie goals is helpful for many people,” says Uelmen.
5. Pour a handful of nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and cashews contain the healthy monounsaturated fats that lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. And because they’re packed with protein, “good” fat and contain few carbohydrates, they won’t raise blood sugar as much as pretzels do. Just stick to a handful, or about a quarter of a cup—and check out which nuts are the healthiest to eat.
6. Have a few whole-grain crackers with peanut butter. Yes, the peanut butter will additional calories, but the tradeoff may be crackers topped with PB is more satisfying thanks to the fat than just crackers and provides a bit of protein and calcium, says Uelmen. “And it will have less immediate impact on blood glucose.”`
7. Munch a few raw veggies. Get in an extra serving of vegetables by nibbling on grape tomatoes, carrots, red and green peppers, cucumbers, broccoli crowns, and cauliflower. Eat them plain or dip them into nonfat yogurt, a light salad dressing, or hummus (stick with 1 to 2 tablespoons’ worth). Here’s what happens when you don’t eat enough veggies.
8. Spread some black bean salsa over eggplant slices. The salsa has only about 15 grams of carbs, 80 calories, and 1 gram of fat. “Beans are great because they provide protein and fiber, but they also contain carbohydrates, and it’s easy to eat more than a portion, so pay attention to portion sizes,” Uelmen notes.
9. Indulge in a few decadent bites. Have a snack of a small piece of dark chocolate (about the size of a Hershey’s miniature chocolate bar), three dried apricots and three walnuts or almonds. Savor every nibble!
10. Grab a yogurt instead of a smoothie. It’s hard to control portions when you’re downing a smoothie, since they have a lot of calories and more fruit than you’d eat in a single serving, says Uelmen. Have a small non- or low-fat yogurt instead.
11. Get berry happy. Any kind of berries will do, since they are high in fiber and have less impact on blood sugar. Another plus: Because they’re low in calories, the portion size is bigger—and makes for a more satisfying snack, Uelman notes.
12. Eat an apple—with the skin. An apple with the skin contains about 3 grams of fiber. The skin packs a double whammy, carrying healthy soluble fiber that helps to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease and antioxidants that fight free radicals and lower the risk of diabetes complications.
13. Say cheese. If you stick to a serving size (1 ounce), cheese won’t make your blood sugar spike. (Actually, your blood sugar is probably safe even with larger amounts but portion control is a good practice.)
14. Have your chocolate “bar” frozen. By that we mean enjoy a frozen fudge pop. “They can satisfy that sweet tooth/chocolate craving and tend to have few ingredients and calories,” says Uelmen, who’s a big fan of Yasso’s Greek yogurt frozen bars. “While they do contain carbs and sugar, they’re only 100 calories and provide some protein—and better than a piece of cake or ice-cream sundae,” she notes. If you’re in need of more low-cal snacks, try these healthy 100-calorie snacks.