Hangry hobbits aren’t a thing. Why? Because they eat six times per day. Who doesn’t want “second breakfast” or dinner followed by supper?
Fortunately, many people with diabetes find that eating smaller meals 4–6 times per day, instead of the standard three large meals, works wonders for preventing blood sugar spikes.
But before you start planning for “elevenses,” afternoon tea, and an epic journey to Mordor, here’s a diabetes nutrition recap.
Priority number one is avoiding a carb overload or a sugar crash. A good rule of thumb is to keep snacks to around 200 calories or less, and make sure they’re:
- high in fiber
- high in protein
- nutrient dense
- sources of healthy fats
- low in added sugars
If this sounds like a tall order, it’s not! Most whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and many fruits boast one or more of these benefits.
Know what’s in your food and be sure to check your blood sugar levels before and after trying foods to know exactly how they affect you. Let the snacking commence!
High-protein foods contain essential amino acids that power your body and keep you functioning at your best. For people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, snacks with protein are ideal because they keep you full for hours, and keep your blood sugar stable.
The American Diabetes Association recommends a variety of high-quality plant and animal proteins, especially those low in carbohydrates and low in saturated fat. High-protein snack ideas include:
- 1 large hard-boiled egg – 6 g
- 1 cup of cottage cheese – 25 g
- a handful of almonds, pecans, or other nuts – about 15 g
- fruit with 2 tbsp nut butter – 8 g
- 5 tbsp hummus and veggie sticks – about 5 g
- 1 cup edamame – 17 g
- 1 cup roasted chickpeas – 15 g
- 1 large piece of beef jerky (no added sugar) – 7 g
- 5 oz can of tuna – 10 g
- 1 stick of part-skim string cheese – 7 g
How much protein do I need?
The DRI (dietary reference intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
- 56 grams per day for the average office-working male
- 46 grams per day for the average office-working female
Like protein, fiber keeps you full for longer and functioning at your best.
A high-fiber diet can actually help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, keeping blood sugar in check and even reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Fiber also maintains bowel health, lowers cholesterol, and is even associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and all cancers. And the high-fiber snack options? Endless and delicious.
- 1 cup cooked oatmeal with a banana – 7 g
- 1 cup air-popped popcorn – 1.2 g
- a handful of blueberries – 3.6 g
- 1 banana – 3.1 g
- 1 cup chia pudding – 16 g
- a small handful of almonds or pistachios – 4 g
- 1 cup raw broccoli with 4 tbsp hummus – 6 g
- ¼ cup dark chocolate (approximately half a bar) – 3 g
- 1 cup mashed avocado on multi-seed crackers – 13 g
- 1 cup homemade granola – 4 g
How much fiber do I need?
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends:
- Females under 50 years of age: 21–25 grams per day
- Males under 50 years of age: 30–38 grams per day
Forget everything you used to hear about the benefits of low-fat foods.
Healthy fats are actually super good for your heart, and they keep you full for longer. The American Diabetes Association recommends a diet rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats to help manage your type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Here are some quick snacks with the approximate total fat content to satisfy your hunger spike:
- half an avocado with everything seasoning – 15 g
- 2 oz dark chocolate with 1 tbsp coconut butter – 26 g
- 1 tbsp almond butter on celery sticks – 9 g
- Greek yogurt parfait (no added sugar) – 10 g
- a handful of greens with 1 tbsp olive oil – 14 g
- ½ cup mixed nuts and 1 string cheese – 21 g
- 3.5 oz olives – 11 g
- 1 cup smoked salmon on multi-seed crackers – 7 g
- 2 deviled eggs – 11 g
- 6 oz smoothie made with full-fat coconut milk – 23 g
How much total fat do I need?
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 20%–35% of total calories from fat. That’s about:
- 44–77 grams of fat per day on a 2,000 calorie diet
Let’s be real — hanger typically strikes at the grocery store. And Trader Joe’s holds a special place in our hearts.
Between their ridiculously affordable prices to their creative, healthy food options (cauliflower gnocchi, anyone?) they’re the grocery store that dreams are made of. Thankfully, they sell tons of snack items that are diabetes-friendly.
Special note: Manufacturers’ ingredients and nutritional info can change at any time, so always double-check the nutritional content before buying.
Here’s a quick roundup of snack ideas:
|Trader Joe’s snack||why you’ll love it|
|These Mediterranean beauties are made with soy oil and contain 7 grams of fat per serving size (4 dolmas). The small serving size of rice can help keep your energy levels up without going overboard on carbs. Serve them with tzatziki for some healthy fats and protein.|
|An option to satisfy a serious need to nibble, this version is made with avocado oil, which helps manage symptoms of type 2 diabetes.|
Organic spicy avocado hummus
|Avocado and chickpeas? Call it a blood-sugar-stabilizing dream team. Smear it on some multi-seed crackers or Wasa bread and top with hard-boiled egg or olive oil.|
Marinated Mediterranean vegetables
|Veggies are full of fiber and these just happen to be soaked in olive oil, making them a satisfying nutritional powerhouse. Serve them on multi-seed crackers with hummus and black pepper.|
Organic raw almonds
|Almonds are high in fiber, vitamin E, and manganese. As a result, almonds can improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes. Eat them on their own or in a homemade trail mix.|
Oven-Baked cheese bites
|These protein-packed cheese bites contain no preservatives and are made with super simple ingredients — semi-aged cheese and Grana Padano cheese. Oh yeah, and they’re super low-carb and don’t need a food pairing… they’re perfect all on their own.|
|Another treat to meet the recommended intake of fish per week! Grill or microwave these flavorful patties. They’re amazing topped with avocado and prepared sliced on top of a salad.|
Dill pickle spears
|Pickles are super crunchy and satisfying, but since they’re cucumbers, they’re primarily made out of water. This is a super low-calorie snack option, just be mindful of the sodium count.|
Organic riced cauliflower
|Managing blood sugar levels typically means cutting back on grains. Instead, try substituting riced cauliflower in your burrito bowl or stir fry. You’ll never notice the difference, but your body will — the extremely low carb count will keep your blood sugar levels from spiking.|
Egg white salad with chives
|While eggs are a great source of protein, they can be high in cholesterol, which may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. That’s why egg whites are awesome — they contain all the protein without the cholesterol-heavy yolk. One container of this salad contains 14 grams of protein and only 100 calories.|
When portioning snacks, remember to keep them around 200 calories or less, and make sure they’re full of protein, fiber, healthy fat, or all three!
These snack recipes are made with whole, unprocessed foods that keep the carb count low and the flavor count high.
|Eat this||Instead of this||Serving size||Calories||Why it’s good|
|Mini veggie frittatas||Pre-packaged protein bars and store bought smoothies||1 frittata||55||Eggs are a good source of protein, low on carbs, and low on sugar.|
|Roasted and spiced chickpeas||Chips and other empty-carb snacks||¼ cup||75||Chickpeas pack a whopping 7 grams of protein in a ¼ cup, satiating hunger for longer than empty-carb snacks.|
|Coconut curry trail mix||Pre-packaged trail mixes and granola bars||2 tbsp||110||Nuts, which are high in protein, fiber, and fat, might help lower the glycemic spike that carbohydrates create in your body.|
|Tangy tuna salad||A high-carb sandwich or pre-packaged tuna salad with too many additives||¼ cup||65||Canned tuna takes zero preparation time, and it’s full of heart-healthy omega-3s. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week.|
|Black bean hummus||Regular hummus or other pre-packaged dips||2 tbsp||70||Black beans and chickpeas both have a low glycemic index and high protein ratio, which helps slow the absorption of carbs into the bloodstream.|
|Cranberry spritzer||cocktails or sugary sodas||1 cup||60||Drinking alcohol can cause hypoglycemia for up to 24 hours after drinking and puts added strain on the liver. This option is non-alcoholic, delicious, and low in sugar.|
|Fresh fruit kebabs||Juice, candy, or any sweet craving||2 kebabs||190||Eating whole fruit rather than juicing it or drinking it from concentrate keeps the fiber intact, so you’re getting all the fruit’s nutrients — not just its sugar.|
|Artichoke dip||Pre-packaged dips||½ cup||78||The sour cream and cheese provide healthy fats and the white beans provide fiber. We recommend using full-fat sour cream, as it has less sugar.|
|Coconut shrimp||Fried dishes and red meat||2 shrimps||75||This recipe provides 5 grams of protein per serving! The coconut flakes and coconut milk add an all-natural boost of healthy fats and a lot of flavor.|
|Butternut squash fries||French fries or any high-carb potatoes||½ cup||62||Squash has a low GI, low GL, and is a great source of fiber.|
Find yourself craving a little somethin’ somethin’ before bed? A high-protein, low-fat snack can stabilize blood sugar levels overnight.
Here are some options:
- A handful of almonds. This superfood contains an ideal ratio of protein and fiber (with just a touch of healthy fat).
- 1 Hard-boiled egg. Eggs are vitamin-rich and full of high-quality animal protein.
- Low-fat cheese. Cheese, even when low in fat, is packed with protein.
- Hummus and celery. Chickpeas contain fiber and protein to keep you full all night long.
- Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a creamy snack with one of the highest protein counts per ounce out there. It’s also lower in sugar than other types of yogurt.
- Apple and peanut butter. Satisfy a craving for sweetness without spiking your blood sugar. Peanut butter is low-glycemic and high in magnesium, so it’s ideal for slowing your body’s absorption of sugars.
Don’t let food be an afterthought
Have healthy snacks on hand and prioritize eating enough and at regular intervals. Test your blood sugar before and after new foods and throughout the day to know what your body needs.
Do your best to avoid processed carbs
Carbs aren’t the enemy, but refined types like breads, pastas, and refined sugars wreak havoc on blood sugar levels. Look for healthy alternatives like Banza, which is pasta made from chickpeas that’s high in protein and fiber.
Favor plant protein
Not all protein is created equal — animal protein can contribute to insulin resistance. Research supports swapping animal proteins for plant-based options to aid diabetes prevention, and management.
A diet rich in plant protein may also reduce the need for prescribed medications.
Go whole and unprocessed
This will come as a shock to no one. Processed foods contain excess sodium, not-so-healthy fats, and other chemicals and additives.
This rule also applies to fruit. Juicing, canning, and drying fruit strips away nutritious fiber content while raising sugar content.
Love yourself and love your food
Having diabetes should never feel like a reason to punish yourself or love yourself less. Work with your doctor or nutritionist to determine the right number of calories, fats, carbs, and foods that work best for you.
Be mindful of your dietary choices, but don’t cross into obsessive counting territory (lest we forget Gollum?), which can burn anyone out and take the joy out of food.