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No matter what type of diabetes you may have, there are a lot of variables that can affect blood sugars—perhaps the most frustrating of which is food. Whether you take insulin with meals and/or you eat a low-carb diet, figuring out what to eat to keep you satisfied and manage blood sugars can be quite the process of trial and error (trust me, I’ve been there!). But, the best snacks for diabetics take some of the guesswork out of what to eat to fill you up without causing too much of a blood sugar spike.
“It’s a common myth that people who have prediabetes or diabetes need to avoid carbs or ‘go keto’ to manage their blood sugar and that’s simply untrue,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook says. “While each body is unique and will react differently to carbohydrates, most foods can be enjoyed in [a] diet personalized to the individual.”
Vanessa Risetto, M.S., R.D explains there’s no need to cut out certain foods entirely. “Nothing is off-limits,” she says. Risetto and Pincus say foods that are 15-20 grams of carbs are good snacks for diabetics of various types. This “will vary depending on total calorie needs, activity level, and blood sugar control.”
Ideally, Pincus says, those carbohydrates will come from nutrient-dense foods like fruit, veggies, nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, and low/nonfat dairy. It’s also recommended to minimize intake of saturated fats because people with diabetes are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, says Pincus. “Research also shows that saturated fat consumption can significantly worsen insulin resistance while substituting them for mono and unsaturated fats can show benefits.”
How we chose the best snacks for people with diabetes
We asked a slew of registered dietitians: Pincus, Risetto, Stefanski, and Lori Zanini, R.D., certified diabetes educator, and author of the Diabetes Cookbook and Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed, and Julie Stefanski, R.D.N, to share the best healthy snacks for diabetics when you’re in need of a pick-me-up.
Greek yogurt with berries
Greek yogurt or Skyr offers a balanced (not to mention satisfying) protein-carb-fat trifecta, which helps keep your blood sugar levels stable, says Stefanski. Pro tip: “If you opt for full fat, watch the portion,” says Stefanski, who recommends capping it at 1/2 to 1 cup (or 4 to 8 ounces), depending on the calorie level you’re going for. “Choose plain Greek yogurt and add 1/4 cup of berries and some liquid stevia if sweetness is what you’re looking for. Add chia or flax seeds for crunch.” If you opt for a yogurt like Siggi’s, one serving is just 12 grams of carbs.
Edamame is like a perfectly balanced snack in its own natural package. These whole immature soybeans are available shelled, in the pod, fresh or frozen depending on your snacking needs. A 1/2 cup serving of shelled edamame offers 9 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber for only 110 calories and 8 grams of carbs. A 1/3 cup of pre-packed roasted edamame contains a whopping 14 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and only 130 calories for a non-perishable blood sugar-stabilizing snack to keep in your desk, gym bag, or backpack.
Beef or chicken jerky
What’s not to love about beef jerky? It’s easy to take on the go, requires no clean-up, and offers filling protein for very few carbs. Just be sure to double-check the carb content, as it can vary depending on the flavor—and watch the salt if your doctor advises you to do so, says Stefanski.
Medjool dates stuffed with walnuts or nut butter
Medjool dates are naturally sweet with no added sugar and a low glycemic index. In fact, research shows that eating dates can have a beneficial effect on fasting blood sugar for people with diabetes. They’re a good source of fiber, magnesium, and copper, plus pound for pound, dates have more potassium than a banana! Remove the pit and stuff a date with two walnuts or a smear of almond, peanut, or sunflower butter for a deliciously balanced snack. 1 large date provides about 55 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrate, and 1.5 g of fiber.
Risetto and Zanini recommend noshing on one or two eggs for a complete (and filling) source of protein “It is also a carb-free option, so great to choose if you find yourself hungry between meals, yet your blood sugar levels are higher than desired,” she says. “If you find them bland, I like sprinkling them with some salt and pepper, or Trader Joe’s ‘Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning.” And one egg has 0.6 grams of carbs.
Cottage cheese with tomatoes
Top 1/2 cup of cottage cheese with a whole sliced tomato for a healthy dose of protein, fat, and calcium. “Since it’s so low in carbs and hydrating, it will not raise blood sugar levels,” she says. What’s more, tomatoes contain lycopene, a disease-fighting phytonutrient that gives red tomatoes their vibrant red pigment.
Whisps Cheese Crisps are made from 1 ingredient: 100% real, artisanal cheese, and have 100-110 calories and 6-9 grams of protein per single serving snack pack, says Pincus. “For those following low carb or keto diets, these conveniently packaged, crunchy, and satisfying snacks are also gluten free, sugar-free, and lactose-free with no preservatives. Plus, only 1 gram of total carbs per serving.
Veggies and dip
It’s hard to go wrong with veggies, but they can start to taste bland after a while. The fix? Switch things up often. “Instead of always turning to baby carrots with hummus or Greek yogurt dip, opt for some variety by trying of some of the lowest carb veggies like raw zucchini, cucumber, Daikon and typical radish, mushrooms, fennel, or peppers,” suggests Stefanski. Need a bit more flavor? Pair your favorites with diabetes-friendly dips, like guacamole, hummus, bean dip, or Greek yogurt dip.
The American Diabetes Association calls nuts a “diabetes superfood” and these single-serving packs of Wonderful pistachios can be included as part of a healthy diet for eating healthfully with diabetes, per Pincus. A 1.5-ounce serving of Wonderful Pistachios Roasted and Salted In Shell conveniently portioned has 5g of complete protein, 6 grams of total carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and boasts healthy fats, for a satisfying portable, nonperishable snack.
Reach for fermented foods—like pickles and sauerkraut—when you’re craving something salty. Thanks to their concentration of probiotics (the good kind of bacteria), you’ll boost your gut health while you’re at it. “While the carb count of pickled carrots, sauerkraut, cauliflower, or traditional pickles can be fairly low, try not to include these on a daily basis if your doctor has recommended limiting sodium,” says Stefanski.
Chia seeds may be tiny, but they’re loaded with fiber and even some protein. Stefanski recommends snacking on a chia pudding. The satisfying nutrients paired with the thick, gelatinous texture will keep you feeling full. Try this: Pour a few tablespoons of chia seeds into 1/2 cup of canned coconut milk and let it thicken for roughly 20 minutes (make this the night before if you don’t have time to wait around in the morning!). Sprinkle with a few berries on top or sweeten with a touch of stevia.
UNREAL Dark Chocolate Coconut Bars
Like everyone else, people watching their blood sugar like to enjoy sweet treats. Thankfully, Pincus says UNREAL Dark Chocolate Coconut Bars have a very short ingredient list with 8 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of added sugar without the use of sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. At 70 calories each they are also gluten free and contain no sodium.
Avocado + turkey lettuce cup
If you’re hungry, but your blood sugar is running high, pair nitrate-free turkey or ham (for protein) with a few slices of avocado (for healthy fat) as a quick and filling low-carb option, suggests Stefanski. If you need something to wrap it all in, use a few pieces of crunchy lettuce.
Flavored pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds offer healthy fats, protein, and even some fiber. Bonus: they’re also a great source of vitamin E, an important nutrient for your skin and immune health, says Stefanski. While plain seeds are great, you can buy flavored varieties depending on your taste preferences, like this Somewhat Spicy option from SuperSeedz.
Trail mix can be a great option if you include nuts, roasted chickpeas, or even a little bit of dark chocolate chunk in your mix for that extra bit of satisfaction. (Pro tip: you likely don’t need the extra carbs that dried fruit provides for an active person if you’re just snacking, so consider making your own!) But if you tend to mindlessly graze, it can easily add up. “Keep the portion at 1/4 to less than 1/2 a cup, or your snack will provide a lot of calories in a very small amount of food,” says Stefanski.
“While corn is popular as a vegetable side dish, it’s actually in the grain group,” explains Stefanski. “As a whole grain it does provide benefits of added fiber with a generous portion.” In fact, 3 cups packs roughly only 100 calories and nearly 4 grams of fiber—just watch the butter and salt. Pop your own, or reach for pre-popped flavors like BBQ, sea salt, and dill pickle for a fun twist. We love opting for Skinny Pop too, for a lower-calorie snack. 3 3/4 cups of Skinny Pop is just 150 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Pincus says Seaweed snacks are super low in carbs and calories with anywhere from 25 to 100 per package, with 0-1 gram of carbohydrate depending on the serving size. “They are crunchy and satisfy your savory snack craving with flavors like Teriyaki, Sea Salt, Wasabi, and Sesame. They are typically gluten-free, low in sodium, and contain iodine, a vital trace mineral that plays a critical role in thyroid health too.”
String cheese is a perfectly portioned protein. “I tell my clients one to two is fine, depending on how hungry you are. Eat alone if it has been less than two to three hours since your last meal, or with a serving of carbs if it has been longer than that,” says Zanini.
Both Zanini and Risetto recommend trying Wasa crackers, which are only 8 grams of carbohydrates for two. Risetto suggests adding one slice of low-fat cheddar (1 g carb) for a tasty snack that’s only 9 g of carbs.
Munch on roasted chickpeas if you’re craving something like chips or crackers. They’re crunchy, high in filling fiber and protein, easily portable, and low in calories. You can switch up your seasoning as well; go for pepper, coriander and cumin in this spicy roasted chickpeas recipe.
A small apple with peanut butter
Yes, this childhood favorite is more than okay to have as a snack. Apples are high in fiber (just keep the skin on), low in calories, and rich in flavonoids that may be protective against diabetes. Peanut butter offers some protein and healthy fat, but cap your serving to one tablespoon if you’re aiming for a lower-calorie snack.
Additional reporting by Alisa Hrustic.
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