National Nutrition Month: Smart Snacking

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National Nutrition Month: Smart Snacking

March is known for many things, including the first day of spring, Saint Patrick’s Day, and the Ides of March. It also happens to be National Nutrition Month. Yes, a whole month is dedicated to being aware of good nutrition and encouraging everyone to practice healthful eating.

Changing eating habits isn’t always easy. Sometimes, focusing on making a change to one or two areas is a great way to get started. So, this week, we’re focusing on snacking.

Should you snack?

Years ago, people with type 1 diabetes were often encouraged to eat a morning, afternoon, and bedtime snack to help prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too much between meals. At that time, this advice made sense, since intermediate-acting insulin (such as NPH) was prescribed, along with a fast-acting insulin. Intermediate-acting insulin is usually taken twice a day, and because it “peaks” about 4 to 6 hours later, someone taking this type of insulin was at a higher risk of having low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) at that time. (By the way, many people still take NPH insulin, as it is less expensive than long-acting insulins that have a minimal peak). So, hence the advice to eat between meals to help keep blood sugars more stable. With the advent of different type of insulin, including long-acting insulin and ultra-fast-acting insulin, there was less of a need to have snacks between meals or at bedtime.

People with type 2 diabetes who take a type of diabetes pill called a sulfonylurea (examples are glimepiride, glipizide, and glyburide) are also at risk of hypoglycemia if they skip or delay meals. Sometimes including a snack helps to prevent hypoglycemia between meals, as well. Also, in the past, it was thought that people with type 2 diabetes should eat snacks in between meals (regardless of the type of medicine they took) to help keep blood sugars stable.

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Why you may not need to snack

Just as there is no “diabetic diet” or one way of eating if you have diabetes, there is no mandate that you have to have snacks. In some situations, it makes sense to eat a snack, say, if you usually eat lunch at noontime and dinner isn’t until 7 p.m. Yes, your blood sugar might dip down, but you also might simply be hungry! Or if you have a particularly active day one day, you may find that you need to eat a little more as an energy boost. And some people find that eating small snacks during the day helps them manage their appetite, which in turn, helps with weight loss.

How do you know if you need a snack or not? First, think about the timing of your meals and what your daily schedule is like. Second, check your blood sugars — look for patterns, especially if your blood sugars tend to be low at a certain time of the day. And third, keep tabs on your hunger levels — does your stomach start to growl at 3 p.m. every day, for example? If you’re not sure if snacks are right for you, talk it out with your dietitian or diabetes educator. If you enjoy having a snack — or if you don’t — discuss your diabetes medication plan with your provider and find out if changes can be made.

Snacking tips

As part of National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has some helpful tips and suggestions to make the most of your snacking. Snacks can be part of any healthy eating plan but the key is to choose nutrient-packed foods rather than empty-calories foods such as chips, cookies, ice cream, etc. Also, keep an eye on the size of your snack — after all, it’s a snack and not a meal! AND recommends that most adults keep snacks to no more than 200 calories. Here are some other tips to guide you:

  • Try to snack only when you’re hungry. If you’re reaching for food because you’re bored, upset, or anxious, for example, you may end up gaining weight and your blood sugars may rise, too.
  • Save time — and watch portions — by planning out and portioning out snacks ahead of time. Cut up fruits, vegetables, and lower-fat cheese. Use snack bags for foods such as whole-grain crackers, popcorn, or pretzels rather than eating out of the bag or box.
  • Aim for balance. This means including some carb (go for whole-grain or unrefined carbs), some protein, and maybe some fat. Protein and fat are nutrients that have less of an effect on blood sugars and they also help fill you up. They can offset a quick rise in blood sugar, too. A good example of a balanced snack is a slice of whole-grain bread spread with a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter. Or try some apple slices with a slice of cheese (try individually-wrapped cheese such as Laughing Cow or Mini Babybel). A good guideline is to aim for between 15 grams and 30 grams of carb for your snack.
  • If you usually don’t snack but are feeling especially hungry, go for lower-carb choices that won’t impact your blood sugar too much. These include hard boiled eggs, olives, light microwave popcorn, low-sodium vegetable juice, nuts and nut butters, cheese, raw veggies and bean dip, mini cans of tuna or salmon, plain Greek-style yogurt, and lower-carb crackers. Read Nutrition Facts labels for the amount of carb per serving.
  • Make a point to drink a no- or low-carb beverage when you have a snack. A glass of water or sparkling water or a cup of unsweetened tea are good choices. Healthy beverages not only keep you hydrated, they fill you up, too.

Craving potato chips? Try a tasty homemade version that’s easy to make and healthier on your heart and your blood sugars.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “What Is the Best Diet for Diabetes?”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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