Most of us are already on board with the idea that a solid snack is key to surviving the workday, a weekend full of errands, or even a road trip. I mean, we even made The Snack Awards a thing in our mag (coming online soon). And for people with diabetes, snacks are even more important, thanks to their impact on blood sugar.
IYKYK, but if not: Diabetes is a chronic condition that causes a person’s blood sugar to be out of whack. People with type 1 diabetes have pancreases that don’t produce enough (or any) insulin, a hormone that is essential for moving glucose (sugar) from the blood into cells that use it for energy. Without insulin, glucose runs wild in the blood, causing chronically high blood sugar levels and leaving the body’s cells without the energy they need to function properly, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
With Type 2 diabetes, the issue isn’t that your body can’t produce insulin, but that your body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should, something called insulin resistance, according to the CDC.
In both types of diabetes, managing blood sugar levels—via insulin injections, other medications, exercise, and nutrition—is key to minimizing symptoms and preventing any long-term health complications.
Why are snacks important for diabetics?
The Snack™ plays an important role in diabetes management. That’s because food—specifically carbohydrates—directly impacts blood sugar levels. Eating a snack when your blood sugar is low can help raise it to a healthier level, and eating the right snacks can do this more effectively for a longer-lasting benefit for your blood sugar and overall health, according to the National Institutes of Health. Your body is indeed a wonderland.
In general, eating a healthy mix of protein, fat, and carbs (aka macronutrients) is as important for patients with diabetes as it is for people without it, says Nadine E. Palermo, D.O., associate director of acute diabetes care at Brigham and Women's Hospital Diabetes Program and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
According to the National Institutes of Health, adults should get 45 to 65 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent from fat, and 10 to 35 percent from protein. The exact percentages depend on a person’s health and goals—especially for people with diabetes who need to actively manage their blood sugar levels, Dr. Palermo says. Other health factors, like high blood pressure or heart disease, can also impact what a good meal and snack looks like for you. So, as you can tell, one person's snack for diabetes might be totally different than someone else's.
Honestly, even the best time of day to eat a snack can vary. When you take specific medications, what time you exercise (which burns glucose and can lower blood sugar levels), and your stress levels throughout the day can all play a role in how your blood sugar levels behave, says Marisa Moore, R.D.N., L.D., registered dietitian nutritionist in Atlanta, Georgia. And some people just tend to run high at certain times of the day, she adds.
With all of that said, a good snack should do three key things for a person with diabetes: help keep blood sugar steady, tackle hunger, and leave you feeling satisfied, Moore says.
What makes a good snack for diabetics?
As you might have guessed: “The truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet or snack regimen,” Dr. Palermo says. “Like any other aspect of diabetes care, nutritional recommendations should be individualized.”
In general, though, the most satisfying snacks typically have a mix of protein, fiber, and healthy fat, and are low in sugar, Moore says. “Those nutrients help to keep you energized and curb your hunger, and that really does help with the food choices that you might make throughout the day,” she says. High-sugar foods cause a spike in blood sugar—which may or may not be good at certain times, depending on the whole picture of your health and diabetes care. “When we snack on foods that don’t stick around very long and burn up really quickly, that can leave us hungry and looking for other things.”
A lot of people with diabetes may be concerned about eating high-carb foods because of their impact on blood sugar. Moore says that it’s not helpful to totally cut out foods like carbs. Instead, think about pairing them with something that can temper the impact on blood sugar.
Pairing carbs with protein and fiber—which take a little more time to move through the body—can help you process glucose more slowly, resulting in a steady blood sugar increase instead of a quick spike, Moore says. That’s good for everyone who wants to have sustained energy and avoid feeling hangry all day long. Plus, this can be especially helpful for people with diabetes who are trying to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
What are some snack ideas for diabetics?
If you’re looking for snack ideas that combine protein, healthy fats, carbs, and fiber, Moore recommends the below. Just remember that it’s essential to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to understand your blood sugar and nutritional needs before figuring out what, how much, and when you should eat to best manage your diabetes. A dietitian can also help you factor in your personal and cultural preferences and your access to certain foods (bc avocados and nuts are hella expensive, friends).
- Blueberries with cottage cheese
- Apple with almond butter
- Roasted chickpeas
- Tuna or roasted turkey wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla
- Turkey, salami, or other meat with cheese and nuts (DIY charcuterie, baby)
- Raw veggies with Greek yogurt-based dip or hummus
One last suggestion from Moore: Remember that nourishing your body is a form of self-care. “When people have diabetes, they may think food is off-limits or have other mental barriers around eating,” Moore says. “If you can create an environment where it is pleasant—maybe that means taking the time to arrange a snack board with your favorite meats and cheeses—it’s going to add to the pleasure of eating and hopefully take away some of those challenges.” So, yes, while snacks may be important tools for maintaining healthy blood sugar, they absolutely can and should be fun too.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.