Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a disease affecting the regulation of blood glucose (sugar) levels.
An organ called the pancreas creates the hormone insulin, which helps keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
With diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to it well. Without proper insulin function, blood sugar levels rise and can lead to health problems if left untreated.
Diabetes is becoming more prevalent worldwide. As of 2015, 30.3 million people in the United States, or about 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes. Unfortunately, more than 1 in 4 people with diabetes don’t know they have it. Having undiagnosed diabetes increases the risk of complications from lack of prompt treatment.
Many people also have prediabetes, a condition where blood sugars are slightly elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Having prediabetes is a major risk factor for eventually developing type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years of their prediabetes diagnosis.
One of the ways to help promote good blood sugar control is through healthy lifestyle habits. Along with other aspects of a diabetes self-management plan, a healthy diet can help improve blood sugars and reduce the risk of complications.
Choosing snacks that are filling and help to promote healthy blood sugar levels is one-way people with diabetes can help manage the disease.
Get Your FREE Diabetes Diet Plan
- 15 foods to naturally lower blood sugar levels
- 3 day sample meal plan
- Designed exclusively by our nutritionist
Diabetes and snacking
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all eating plan for people with diabetes, snacks for diabetics can be useful. Snacks can help sustain energy levels, stave off hunger in between meals, and can help prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), especially in people taking insulin to help manage their diabetes.
Carbohydrates have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels compared to protein and fat, the other two main nutrients. This is why there is such a focus on carbohydrates when it comes to managing blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy products such as milk and yogurt. While most vegetables are very low in carbohydrates and don’t raise blood sugar significantly, certain vegetables containing more starch do impact blood sugar, such as potatoes.
There are three components to the carbohydrate group: sugars, starch, and fiber. Of all of these, fiber is the only carbohydrate not to raise blood sugar because the body can’t absorb it. As a result, high-fiber foods tend to raise blood sugar less than low-fiber foods.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose molecules, or blood sugar, during digestion. Blood sugar levels rise after consuming carbohydrates, which is why people with (and at risk for developing) diabetes are encouraged to eat a variety of foods and be mindful of their carbohydrate portions, as eating a carbohydrate-heavy diet can lead to elevated blood sugars.
Protein- and fat-based foods don’t have as significant of an impact on blood sugar levels. They can also provide a sense of satiety because they take longer to digest than carbohydrates. Combining protein- and fat-based foods with carbohydrates can promote more steady blood sugar levels since the mixed meal (or snack) takes longer to digest in the presence of fat and protein. When food is digested more slowly, it usually raises blood sugar levels more slowly, preventing blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes.
The options for healthy snacks are almost endless, but most have the same things in common. Great snack ideas for people with diabetes should be free of (or low in) added sugars, rich in fiber, rich in protein, and/or rich in healthy fats. While many products are labeled as “for diabetics” or “diabetes-friendly,” many of the best snack options aren’t pre-packaged or marketed explicitly for people with diabetes.
Whether or not someone eats snacks as a part of their diabetes care plan will depend on many factors, such as their activity level, blood sugar goals, work schedule, and typical meal pattern.
21 Best Snacks for Diabetes
Whether they’re almonds, peanuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, or a mix, nuts are a filling and protein-rich snack option. They’re also rich in fiber and healthy unsaturated fats.
While nuts contain some carbohydrates (6 grams in one ounce of almonds, for instance), half of those carbs come from fiber. This means that only about 3 grams of carbohydrates will be able to impact blood sugar levels. This is known as the net carb content, which is found by subtracting grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrates. Foods rich in fiber are lower in net carbs, even if their total carbohydrate count seems high.
High sodium intake can worsen high blood pressure, which many people with diabetes also struggle with. Some nuts can be high in sodium, so it’s best to opt for natural, unsalted varieties. It’s also ideal to choose unflavored nuts, as some flavors such as “honey roasted” and “BBQ” can have added sugar.
Another convenient and portable snack option, cheese, is naturally rich in protein and an excellent calcium source. Cheese can be high in sodium but can still be enjoyed as a healthy snack when balanced with other lower-sodium food choices. Mozzarella cheese, or string cheese, is lower in sodium than darker yellow cheeses. Swiss cheese is also lower in sodium, which may be good options for those with diabetes and high blood pressure.
3) Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt tends to be lower in carbohydrates than traditional yogurt because of the process in which it’s made. It contains less lactose (natural milk sugar) from being strained more thoroughly than traditional yogurt, which lowers the sugar content and raises the protein content.
Plain yogurt is ideal for people with diabetes since it’s free of added sugars and can be found in nonfat, low-fat, and full-fat options. Top fruit with plain Greek yogurt, or enjoy a bowl of yogurt with sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey.
4) Hard-boiled eggs
Eggs have had a rocky reputation due to their cholesterol content. However, they are still a great choice due to their impressive nutritional profile; one egg is a great source of high-quality protein with 7 grams per egg, as well as being a good source of nutrients such as vitamin D, B vitamins, and selenium.
As far as cholesterol – all animal products contain cholesterol, and foods like eggs, organ meats, and shellfish are particularly high in cholesterol. The recommendations behind diet and managing blood cholesterol levels seem to change often, which can be confusing for both people with high cholesterol and healthcare providers.
The bottom line is that if you have high cholesterol, it’s probably a good idea not to eat large amounts of foods high in cholesterol regularly. Aim for a balance, with some cholesterol-containing foods and plenty of plant foods low in cholesterol to balance them.
5) Trail mix
A trail mix primarily made with nuts and seeds is rich in protein and free of added sugars, making it a great choice. For a little sweetness, choose trail mixes that use a small amount of plain, unsweetened dried fruit such as raisins or dried apple slices, not sweetened dried fruit such as raisins.
Trail mixes with candy pieces aren’t ideal for those with diabetes. Instead, including a touch of dark (at least 60% cacao) chocolate chips or chunks can provide some sweetness without all of the sugar of milk or semisweet chocolate.
6) Fresh fruit
Fruit contains natural sugar, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good choice for people with diabetes. Fruit contains fiber, antioxidants, and a variety of vitamins and other beneficial nutrients.
Some examples of lower sugar fruits (fewer than 10 grams of sugar per 100-gram serving) include blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, melons, oranges, peaches, and strawberries. Berries are especially rich in fiber, which can help promote more steady blood sugars and may even improve heart health by promoting healthy cholesterol levels.
To help avoid blood sugar spikes, try eating a protein source with fruit. Cheese and nuts go well with fruit, as does cottage cheese. Be wary of dried fruit and fruit leathers, as these tend to be more concentrated in sugar than whole fruit.
When buying canned fruit, those canned in 100% juice are preferred over those canned in syrups. Draining and rinsing the fruit will help reduce the sugar content as well.
Similar to nuts in nutrition, seeds are a versatile and healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds are especially rich in magnesium, promoting healthy blood pressure and even preventing migraines due to their ability to relax blood vessels.
Sunflower seeds are another versatile seed that can be used to top salads, added to homemade granola bars, or to top a fruit and yogurt parfait. They are often salted, so it’s essential to watch the sodium content for blood pressure concerns.
Chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which may help to reduce inflammation. Chia seed is also an excellent source of fiber, with one ounce containing 10 grams.
A delicious way to enjoy chia seeds is to make chia pudding – just combine 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, half a cup of milk (it can be non-dairy), and sweetener, whether it’s one teaspoon of honey, monk fruit sweetener, or another non-sugar substitute. Mix very well until there are no clumps, refrigerate, and enjoy after it’s set for at least two hours.
Air-popped popcorn is rich in fiber, making it a filling snack. Three cups of popped popcorn contain 3.5 grams of fiber, much more than other salty snacks such as potato chips. Sprinkling grated parmesan or nutritional yeast on the top of popcorn can give it a flavor and nutritional boost. Nutritional yeast is rich in vitamin B12 and is impressively rich in protein, further boosting satiety and keeping hunger at bay.
9) Celery with peanut butter
Celery is virtually calorie-free due to its high water content yet has a satisfying crunch, making it a healthier alternative to more traditional salty, fatty, crunchy snacks. Adding peanut butter (or any nut butter) gives it more substance nutrition-wise since nut butters are a good protein source and healthy unsaturated fats.
10) Cottage cheese with fruit
Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein, with around 13 grams per half-cup serving. Like other dairy products, it’s also a great source of calcium. It is a bit higher in sodium, so it should be eaten in moderation as a part of a diet low in sodium overall. Cottage cheese pairs great with pineapple and mandarin oranges but can be combined with any fruit. The protein helps balance the carbohydrates and sugars from fruit, making it an ideal balanced snack option.
11) Homemade fruit smoothie
While store-bought smoothies are often made with added sugars and fruit juices, homemade versions can be very healthy and even beneficial for people with diabetes.
A good basic recipe is to combine one cup of plain Greek yogurt with a small banana, a half cup of berries, and enough milk (preferably non-dairy such as unsweetened almond milk to keep the carbohydrate content moderate) for it to easily mix in a blender. Add-ins such as nuts and seeds can further boost the protein content.
12) Peanut butter sandwich
This classic favorite can be a great on-the-go and portable snack option. Try to stick with whole grain bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice and fewer than 2 grams of added sugar per slice. Even better – try Ezekiel bread, which doesn’t contain any added sugars.
Peanut butter can have added sugars, so opt for a natural kind without any added sugars or added fats, such as Adam’s natural peanut butter.
Edamame are immature soybeans still in their pods, resembling snap peas. They can be heated (whether by boiling or steaming) and enjoyed straight out of their pods. One cup of edamame contains 17 grams of protein with only 7 grams of net carbs.
Vegetables are always a great snack option. Most vegetables are low in carbohydrates and can be eaten without fear of a blood sugar spike. Carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and snap peas are all great options and can be enjoyed on their own or with a bit of dipping sauce.
Speaking of dipping sauce – hummus fits the bill for a healthy dipping sauce for veggies, such as carrots, peppers and celery sticks. Made from chickpeas, hummus has more protein, less fat, and less sodium than most traditional sauces and dressings. Hummus also pairs well with crackers.
15) Jerky or beef sticks
Plain jerky without added flavors is rich in protein and is incredibly low in carbohydrates, so it shouldn’t raise blood sugar levels. One ounce of jerky contains around 9 grams of protein.
Some types of jerky have sugar added, so it’s important to check the ingredients label. One downside of jerky is that it’s high in sodium, but it can still be a good choice as a part of an overall lower-sodium diet.
16) Tuna salad
Tuna salad can be enjoyed on whole grain crackers, as a dip for raw veggies, or with apple slices for a sweet and savory combination. There are many recipes for homemade tuna salad, allowing for greater control of aspects such as sodium and fat content.
17) Whole-grain crackers
Crackers with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and with little to no sugar added are a versatile snack option – combine them with peanut butter, cheese, or tuna salad to boost the protein content.
18) Avocado toast
Avocados are a fantastic source of healthy fat and are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Spreading mashed or sliced avocado on top of toasted whole grain bread is a great snack option. To make breakfast out of it, add a cooked egg on top!
19) Snap peas
Baked snap peas are lower in sodium than most chips and crackers and are rich in fiber and protein. One ounce of Harvest Snaps contains 5 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 11 grams of net carbs.
Roasted chickpeas. Beans and legumes are considered starchy vegetables but are also rich in protein and fiber and provide a plant-based source of iron. Roasting chickpeas gives them a satisfying crunch and provides around 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 13 grams of net carbs.
Other diet tips
Learn how to spot added sugar
Many products marketed as “healthy” can be loaded with added sugars and lead to blood sugar spikes. Added sugars are prevalent in many processed foods; it’s estimated that up to 74% of processe
https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.X6dBSe2IbIUd foods contain added sugar. Added sugar has many names, which can make it difficult to spot.
The new nutrition facts label now has a line for added sugars, making it easier to spot. Some labels still don’t contain a line for added sugars, so checking the nutrition facts ingredient label is critical to determine if added sugars are present.
Make a plan
Preparing meals and snacks ahead of time is the best way to meet your nutrition goals. It also helps to avoid setbacks such as relying on less-healthy convenience options from vending machines or fast-food restaurants. Choosing make-ahead meals and batch meals can help save time in the long run and are convenient on days when there might not be enough time to prepare a meal.
Snacks can be a useful tool for people with diabetes in helping to manage blood sugar levels. Not everyone with diabetes needs to include snacks; for instance, some people may need snacks between meals on days they are more active or experiencing low blood sugar between meals.
There are many options for healthy snacks. Protein, healthy fat, and fiber are all positive features of healthy choices. Avoiding added sugars and high sodium foods is also ideal when choosing a healthy snack. Knowing how to read food labels for added sugar content and making a plan for meals and snacks are other useful tools to help people with diabetes meet their health goals.