Diabetes is a health condition that is extremely prevalent in the United States. More than one in ten people have this disease characterized by elevated blood sugar levels according to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report.
This report also reveals that roughly one in three people have a condition called prediabetes. Individuals with prediabetes also have a high blood sugar level. However, it isn’t high enough to qualify for a diabetes diagnosis…yet.
Finding ways to not only reduce but also stabilize blood sugar is critical for both groups. Snacking can help.
Someone with diabetes either doesn’t make insulin or their body can’t use it efficiently. Insulin regulates blood glucose. When it isn’t available or is inefficient, blood sugar can spiral out of control.
High blood sugar can leave someone feeling tired and hungry. It also appears via excessive urination, blurry vision, and numbness or tingling in the extremities. If it gets too high, they can slip into a coma.
Having a snack in between meals can help keep blood sugar stable throughout the day. It prevents glucose from dropping too low when going long periods without eating. For someone with diabetes, low blood sugar can be just as dangerous.
Low blood sugar levels can lead to convulsions, seizures, and even unconsciousness. Though rare, it may even result in death. Again, consuming a healthy snack between meals can keep blood glucose levels from lowering to this point.
Although snacking is important for blood sugar stability, snack choice is even more critical. The last thing someone with diabetes needs is a snack that increases their blood sugar even more. Instead, they benefit from a mini-meal that doesn’t create a spike.
A snack that contains fiber and healthy fat or protein is perfect for someone with diabetes. Fat, fiber, and protein all slow down digestion. This keeps blood glucose from elevating too fast. They are all also components of a nutritious diet. (Proper nutrition may even assist with diabetes prevention.)
When choosing a higher-fat food, stick with items that contain unsaturated versus saturated fat. Unsaturated fat is healthier in that it raises “good” cholesterol while lowering “bad” cholesterol. This can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Saturated fat does the opposite. So, foods with this type of fat should be limited.
Telling a client with diabetes that a healthy snack for them contains both fiber and fat or protein may not be enough. They may not know which foods are high in these healthful substances. Providing specific snack ideas can often be more helpful. Here are 13 to consider.
Research shows that probiotics help improve fasting blood glucose and insulin sensitivity. What’s one of the best sources of probiotics? Yogurt. Greek yogurt is an even better yogurt choice because it supplies protein too.
Ideally, the Greek yogurt should be unsweetened so it doesn’t supply a lot of added sugar. Putting berries in the yogurt helps make this snack sweeter while also increasing nutrients.
If clients are in the mood for something chocolate, have them add a little unsweetened cocoa to this snack. This can help satisfy their sweet tooth without affecting their blood sugar.
Whole-grain crackers supply fiber while nut butter supplies protein and fat. There are many nut butter options, allowing clients to choose the ones they like the taste of most. While peanut butter is among the most common, there’s also almond butter, cashew butter, and more.
Just remind them that a little bit goes a long way. Nut butter is higher in fat. So, using one tablespoon of peanut butter, for instance, is enough to help keep their blood sugar level stable without exceeding their desired fat or calorie intake.
Another option is to top their crackers with turkey or tuna, both of which offer protein. They can even create a mini cracker and meat sandwich. By swapping the nut butter with lean meat, this option is more suitable for someone who is allergic to nuts.
For even more taste with a bit of added fat, they can put a slice of avocado on their mini sandwich. This also adds a textural difference, providing a more well-rounded snack.
Do you know what else goes well with whole-grain crackers? Cheese.
One benefit of cheese is that many varieties exist. There’s cheddar, Swiss, gouda, and mozzarella, to name a few. Each one offers a different taste experience. So, clients can switch things up from day to day to incorporate a little variety.
Cheese is also fairly filling. That makes it a good choice for clients who struggle with between-meal hunger pangs.
Like with nuts, cheese is also higher in fat. Therefore, portion control is critical to staying within the desired calorie range. One to two ounces of cheese is often enough.
Smearing nut butter on a piece of fruit offers an additional healthy snack option good for controlling blood sugar. The saltiness of the nuts and the sweetness of the fruit hits on different taste buds, providing a satisfying snack. Fruit also contains vitamins and minerals, helping clients meet their daily recommended amounts.
Dip apple slices in peanut butter or slather almond butter on half a banana. It’s almost like eating a dessert between meals and who doesn’t love that?
For a little less sweetness, swap out the fruit for whole wheat bread—a great source of fiber. While peanut butter is often served with some type of jelly, it is just as good on its own. And it’s a healthier option for someone with diabetes since jelly is high in sugar.
Since jelly is being omitted, this healthy snack can feel a little dry. Having a glass of water on hand helps relieve this dryness while also increasing hydration. This is important with diabetes because dehydration is often a concern.
Some clients prefer a snack that feels more like a meal. In this case, they may enjoy a slice of cucumber topped with chicken salad, the latter of which supplies both protein and fat.
Have them make their own chicken salad using Greek yogurt to make this option healthier. This creates a little tanginess without using mayo, which is high in saturated fat.
String cheese is fun to play with, even for adults. This type of cheese is also good for people on the go because it comes prepackaged in individual sticks.
Since cheese contains protein and fat, add an apple to get some fiber with this snack. If the client isn’t fond of apples, other fruit can be eaten instead. Just be aware of how much sugar is in the fruit so it doesn’t unintentionally raise their blood sugar.
A fruit-based snack that is more creamy and less crunchy includes cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. This combination is good for someone with diabetes, especially when including a fruit that contains fiber.
Clients can also play around with this snack option to change up the flavor. They can eat pineapple with cottage cheese one day and incorporate berries or melon the next. This offers a bit of variety without having to swap out both snack foods.
Chickpeas are high in fiber and protein, making them a great choice for clients who don’t have the time or desire to prepare two snack foods. Plus, they’re tasty, especially when roasted with a bit of spice.
Mix chickpeas with a little bit of olive oil, cumin, and chili powder for a snack that is anything but bland. Roast them in the oven around 250 degrees until they crisp up. Their crispiness can help satisfy the mouth in the same way as munching on potato chips while avoiding saturated fat.
Eggs are excellent protein sources. That’s why they’re so good for exercise fuel and recovery. Clients can also mix their eggs with a little mashed avocado to create a sort of egg salad that provides a healthier fat than mayo.
Place this egg-avocado mixture on a rice cake for a snack with a crunch. The rice cake supplies some of the fiber that is beneficial for diabetes. And it is low in fat.
Vegetables and dip are common snacks. Replacing the dairy-based dip with hummus increases the protein content while supplying healthy fat.
Starchy vegetables are typically higher on the glycemic index. Therefore, if clients struggle with controlling their blood sugar, they may want to avoid carrots and go with other options instead. Non-starchy vegetable options that go well with hummus include bell peppers and celery sticks.
The benefit of this diabetic snack is that it travels well. It also doesn’t require refrigeration. Just throw it in a little sandwich bag, drop it into your purse or travel bag, and head out the door.
If they buy their trail mix, suggest that clients choose a product that isn’t high in salt or added sugars. To make this an even more healthful snack, encourage them to make their own. They can include a variety of nuts and dried fruit to suit their taste. Adding a bit of popcorn to their trail mix also provides a different texture.
While it’s helpful to share snacks that won’t elevate their blood sugar, it’s just as important to educate clients about which ones to avoid. What types of food make this list? Among them are:
Highly processed foods (white crackers, white bread, etc.)
Foods high in added sugar (cookies, candy, cakes)
Energy bars with a high sugar content
Sugary smoothies or fruit juices
All of these items not only raise blood sugar but are also typically void of nutrition. This means that they add to one’s daily calorie intake without adding any healthful nutrients.
Clients can also benefit from learning how to best utilize their between-meal snacks. Some pieces of advice to consider offering include:
Consuming a snack anytime there are 6 or more hours between meals
Eating a bedtime snack to help stabilize their blood sugar the next morning
Including the snack when creating their meal plan so they don’t exceed their desired calorie intake
Limiting each snack to 100-200 calories
Snacking can be part of a healthy eating plan. For someone with diabetes, this includes choosing foods that are low in sugar and contain fiber, protein, and healthful fats.
Also, remember that everyone is different. So, they need to pay attention to how a specific food or food combination might impact their blood glucose level. They may even want to track their sugar intake, noting the foods they eat and when. This can help identify items that may be raising their blood sugar versus decreasing it.
Want to learn even more ways to help clients with diabetes? Become a Certified Health Coach. This ISSA course teaches you how to work with people who have a variety of chronic health conditions, from high blood pressure to cancer. It also includes strategies to keep them motivated while overcoming any obstacles that stand between them and their health and wellness goals.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. [online] Available at: <https: www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-stat-report.html=""> [Accessed 29 December 2021].</https:>
Kesika, P., Sivamaruthi, B. and Chaiyasut, C., 2019. Do Probiotics Improve the Health Status of Individuals with Diabetes Mellitus? A Review on Outcomes of Clinical Trials. BioMed Research International, 2019, pp.1-11.
ISSA's Health Coach certification is for personal trainers and other health professionals who want to help clients overcome physical and mental health barriers to achieve their optimal wellness.