Snacking is maybe one of American’s favorite pastimes. We snack when binge-watching our favorite shows, we snack for comfort, and we snack when that midday energy slump sneaks up. According to a Mintel survey, close to 95% of Americans eat at least one snack every day, and 50% snack two to three times a day.
While snacking can be a great way to boost your nutrition, it can also backfire: choosing high-calorie, high-carb snack foods, such as potato chips, cookies, candy, and soda can lead to weight gain and, in the case of diabetes, higher blood sugars. Can and should people who have diabetes eat snacks? Read on to find out!
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health defines a snack as “any food eaten between main meals.” And there are a lot of reasons why people snack: feeling hungry, having low energy, craving a particular food, or feeling stressed, anxious, or bored. For some people with diabetes, snacking is a way to keep blood sugar levels more stable during the day and overnight. Other people who need to make sure they keep up with their nutrition, including those who need to gain weight, or people who have certain health conditions may need to snack to meet their nutrient and calorie needs.
Snacking can get a bad rap, and not surprisingly: typical snack foods tend to be less than healthy. Also, “side effects” from snacking may include weight gain, being unable to eat a meal, and filling up on ultra-processed foods that are high in sodium, unhealthy fats, and refined carbs, which can have a negative effect on health. The good news, though, is that, when done thoughtfully, you can reap the benefits of snacking. You may find that snacking helps you more easily:
- Manage your weight
- Manage your diabetes
- Boost your nutrition
- Keep your energy levels up
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So, how can you be smart about your snacking? Try these tips.
Consider your diabetes treatment plan.
If you manage your diabetes with healthy eating and physical activity, or certain types of diabetes pills, such as metformin, you may not need to eat a snack. On the other hand, if you take insulin or diabetes pills called sulfonylureas, snacking may be recommended to help you prevent low blood sugars. Your health care team can help you figure out if snacking is a good choice for you.
Think about timing.
Another factor to keep in mind is your daily schedule. A general rule of thumb when it comes to eating with diabetes is not go too long without eating. For example, if you eat breakfast at 6 a.m., and lunch isn’t until 1 p.m., fitting in a late morning snack can keep blood sugar levels steady and keep your hunger level in check, too. On the other hand, if you eat dinner at 7 p.m. and you go to bed at 9 p.m., you probably don’t need a bedtime snack. (But then again, you may need a snack depending on your blood sugar levels.)
It’s not uncommon to snack somewhat mindlessly while doing certain things, such as watching TV, perusing social media, or hanging out with friends. Before you know it, you’ve eaten several handfuls of tortilla chips or crunched your way through a sleeve of cookies. Make a point to pay attention to what and how much you eat in situations such as these.
If you carb count, a general guideline for choosing a snack is to aim for about 15 grams to no more than 30 grams of carb. Examples of 15 grams of carb include: a small piece of fruit, 3/4 cup light-style yogurt, 4-6 crackers, 3 cups of popcorn, or 1 frozen fruit bar. You may need more or less carb, depending on factors such as your age, weight, activity level, and how well your diabetes is doing. Ask your dietitian for a list of 15-gram carb snacks, and be sure to read food labels to know how much carb you’re getting from your favorite snack foods.
Portion snacks out.
Snacking on healthy foods can be a great way to help you manage your diabetes, fit in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and even help you drop a few pounds. But things can go awry (meaning, you end up consuming more calories and carbs than you realize) if you eat right out of the box or package. Think about portioning your snacks into a small bowl, or try pre-bagging your snack using plastic snack bags.
Keep tabs on your hunger.
There may be times when the hungry horrors hit and you really need a quick snack. Resist the urge to grab a bag of chips or a handful of cookies. Instead, reach for healthy snack foods that are low in carb and that can squelch those hunger pangs at the same time. Good choices include: a hard boiled egg, raw veggies dipped in low-fat cottage cheese, celery sticks spread with peanut butter, string cheese, a handful of nuts, or hummus and low-carb crackers.
Go easy with emotional eating.
We often see TV shows depicting an upset person who reaches in the freezer for a pint of ice cream. This is a classic example of emotional eating! If you head for the ice cream (or chips or peanut butter jar) when you’re upset, stressed or bored, you may be eating for emotional reasons, and not because you’re truly hungry. Think about what you might do differently the next time you are upset, sad, anxious or bored. Decide to go for a walk, or call up a friend, take some deep breaths or work on a hobby. Any emotional relief from eating is short lived, and afterwards, you may feel badly after realizing how much you ate.
If you’ve already had your snack or prefer not to eat one, but aren’t quite feeling satisfied, pour yourself a drink of water, seltzer water, or herbal tea. Drinking a beverage can fill you up and keep you hydrated at the same time.
Finally, consider your own eating preferences and schedule. Maybe you prefer eating several small meals rather than three main meals. Or maybe you really enjoy an evening snack with your partner. Let your dietitian and health care provider know — they can help you come up with a healthy eating schedule and possibly make some tweaks to your diabetes medications to fit your lifestyle.