As a new dietitian in a hospital, I clearly remember my diabetes patients being given snacks at 10 am, 3 pm and 9 pm. Even though some of the people weren’t hungry, they were encouraged to eat a snack to avoid low blood sugars. Back then, the newer insulins (like Humalog) and flexible insulin regimens weren’t available. People literally ate to feed their insulin. Today, there are a lot treatment options for diabetes, and thanks to these newer diabetes medicines, snacking, for many people, is optional.
Reasons to snack
There are many reasons why eating snacks might be a good idea for you.
1. To prevent hunger. Let’s face it – going too long between meals can leave you feeling hungry, not to mention irritable, grumpy and even drained of energy.
2. To prevent overeating at your next meal. You might think you’re being “good” by not snacking, but chances are you’ll be so hungry when your next meal rolls around that you end up overeating.
3. To add variety. Sometimes it’s challenging fitting in all those fruits and vegetables that we’re supposed to eat over three meals. Allowing for snacks lets you eat more of a variety of foods which, in turn, can help ensure that you get the nutrients that you need.
4. To help with blood sugar control. This doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone who has diabetes, but there are some people who, perhaps because of increased activity levels during the day or eating a smaller-than-usual dinner might benefit from fitting in a snack.
Reasons not to snack
On the other hand, if not done carefully, snacking can wreak havoc.
1. Weight gain. A snack isn’t a meal. And many typical snack choices are downright unhealthy, usually loaded with calories, carbs and fat. So, when snacking isn’t done smartly, weight gain can result.
2. Blood sugars. While snacking can help manage blood sugars, it can also send them skyrocketing if your snack choices lean towards high-carb, high-fat treats, such as muffins, chips or energy bars.
3. Boredom. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. These are common and very real emotions, and for some, the inclination is to react by reaching for chips, cookies, ice cream or whatever happens to be handy. But snacking in the face of distress doesn’t make it go away; it merely prolongs it.
Is snacking for you?
The beauty of most diabetes treatment plans these days is that they can (and should) be adjusted to accommodate you. If you like having a snack, then by all means, you should be able to fit one in. But, as with most aspects of diabetes, snacking requires some planning, in terms of timing, type and amount. Ideally, talk with your dietitian or diabetes educator about the best way to snack that will keep you on target with your blood sugar and weight goals.
Tips for savvy snacking
Okay, you’ve decided to fit snacking into your eating plan. There are plenty of tasty, healthy and even low-carb snacks to choose from. Here are some tips to help you choose wisely:
• Unless you’re a teenage boy or an NFL quarterback, aim to keep snacks to no more than about 150 calories and about 15-20 grams of carb.
• Avoid mindlessly eating from the box, package or container. It’s guaranteed that you’ll eat way more than you planned. Portion out your Triscuits, Wheat Thins or pretzels into a bowl or on a plate. Better yet, buy some of those snack-size baggies and pre-portion your snacks for the week. Then, when snack time rolls around, just grab a bag and enjoy.
• Carbs aren’t bad! But try to choose healthy carbs, like whole grain crackers, whole wheat bread, popcorn, fresh fruit, or plain or Greek-style yogurt.
• Add some protein to keep you full: nut butters, nuts, lower-fat cheese, a slice of turkey or a hard-boiled egg are good choices.
• If you want to limit carbs, choose cut-up raw veggies or even some steamed veggies and top with some Parmesan cheese. Dip those carrot sticks into a bit of hummus. Or, drizzle some salad dressing over your veggies to add flavor minus the carbs. Try low-carb tortilla chips with salsa. And don’t overlook the comfort of a cup of vegetable soup.
• If sweetness is what you crave, a try a frozen fruit-juice bar, 15-20 frozen grapes, or 6 ounces of light-style fruited yogurt.
Keep tabs on your blood sugars by checking them regularly, including a couple hours after you’ve eaten a snack. Finally, if you find yourself snacking because you’re upset, lonely or bored, come up with other activities that you can do, such as calling a friend, reading a book or taking a nap to help you manage these feelings.