Guest Post from Sally Marchini, Dietitian
This must be the ‘most asked’ question I get as a dietitian: “What are the best snacks for people with diabetes?”
It’s not really a black and white question as the answer depends on your personal diabetes requirements, your personal tastes, your ability to be mindful in your choices and your knowledge of healthy eating in general. So this blog aims to help you to be mindful in making snacking decisions.
We encourage you to choose foods that are higher in nutrients to add to your overall wellbeing, rather than ‘discretionary choices’ which everybody, diabetic or not, is encouraged to limit. It’s especially the case for us with diabetes… but it doesn’t mean missing out on delicious flavours!
Your first priority needs to be your overall diabetes goals. Are you getting all the nutrients from your diet that you need for wellbeing? Are you needing to watch your weight? Is matching your food intake to your body’s ability to process carbs an issue for you?
A perfect segue to our Australian Dietary Guidelines… Are you actually meeting the quantities recommended in the 5 main food groups across your day?
In an ideal world we would choose snacks that are included in the foods that we are recommended to enjoy each day. In these examples I’m referring to the ‘Healthy Eating for Adults’ brochure, but there’s also a Healthy Eating for Children brochure for those thinking about their children with diabetes. In both cases, the actual food group listings are on page 2.
Each of the food groups has snacking potential, so there’s always plenty to choose from.
In the ‘Vegetables and legumes/beans’ group you can always find a low-carb snack if that’s what you’re after. Whether it’s raw veg to nibble on, celery with nut butter, blanched asparagus spears when they’re in season, tasty tiny tomatoes that burst with flavour in your mouth, hummous dip with veggie sticks, or even leftover cold roasted non-starchies or ratatouille.
Next group down and a great one for those wanting something to satisfy a sweetness craving is the ‘Fruit’ group. With diabetes we are recommended to aim for about 2 serves per day, eaten at different times. However, some fruits are really low in carbohydrate, so we can have more of these without upsetting our glycemic control. Some of those include berries, passionfruit and kiwifruit. But still watch your quantities. If you want to know how much fruit will contain 15g of carbohydrate, take a look at www.calorieking.com.au , search for the fruit you are looking at, and adjust quantities to get to the 1 carb serve number.
In the ‘Grain (cereal) foods’ group, it’s easy to calculate whether you’re going to meet your daily recommended amount. Often for people with diabetes this is a group that people actually tend to be low in. Instead of choosing a ‘discretionary item’, swapping in a low-GI high fibre grain snack such a piece of heavily grained toast with a topping to suit your taste can be a great option to satisfy your hunger and keep your BGLs stable. Or even a small bowl of your high-fibre cereal. Of course these options all contain carbs, but they are all much more nutritious than a cracker or sweet biscuit.
In the ‘Protein’ group, snacking options are easy to find, but it’s important to remember to try not to exceed the guidelines in terms of serve sizes and number of serves recommendations. This is because protein contains energy (or calories/kilojoules) that will cause weight gain if you have too much, although they shouldn’t upset your glycemic control. I recommend having a read of this blog on Protein : written earlier, if you’d like more info. The perfect snack from within this group for us with diabetes is really a handful of nuts, as the evidence behind inclusion of nuts in our diet is quite outstanding. Read more about nuts in this blog.
And last, but not least, is the ‘Dairy and/or alternatives’ group. I wrote a couple of blogs about dairy and diabetes as it’s such an important food group for us with diabetes. Here’s a link to the first one and the second one that contain more great ideas for snacking. My favourite snacking recommendations to help meet the nutritional guidelines are a low-fat yogurt (low sugar too if you’re watching your carb intake closely) or plain low-fat greek yogurt with berries mixed in. Or a low-fat milk based smoothie made on frozen berries, with a couple of teaspoons of chia seeds added for extra fibre. Even a cup of milk based coffee can do the trick… These should work well to satisfy hunger and provide you with the nutrients this group is known for.
Your second priority, also a very important one, is to ask yourself what do you actually feel like eating and why? Sometimes snacking can become a habit. People say “I have a sweet tooth and NEED a biscuit or cake”. (or whatever) This is important too, because if you deprive yourself of what you really want (or feel you need) all the time, then your craving will only grow bigger and you’ll end up overdoing it and regretting it later. Not a good thing, but happens all too often. If you can enjoy a small amount of what you feel you “need”, being mindful of enjoying every mouthful, savouring the textures and flavours that you’ve wanted so badly, then you’re in a better place to return to your ‘healthier’ options on a regular basis.
Do I really need to snack?
If you’re medicated for your diabetes, and are putting yourself at risk of a hypo if you don’t snack, then you should snack as you’ve been advised by your medical diabetes team. If in this case you’d rather not be snacking as you’re just not hungry, then you should talk to your d-team and arrange to have the medication adjusted so that you don’t need to snack.
For those of you where snacking has just become a habit, it’s worth thinking twice to see if you really are hungry before you just head for a snack. Is it out of habit or because you’re bored? Sometimes a drink of water will satisfy that ‘hunger’ feeling, which may actually be your body telling you that you’re dehydrated. If you’re bored, take the opportunity to go for a walk, call a friend, do something off your household chores list, read a book, or engage in your hobby.
If you are constantly actually hungry, it may be worth your while to visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian to see how your meal plan can be adjusted to help avoid that happening. Being hungry is not good or necessary for you to manage your diabetes and weight well.
Australian Healthy Food Guide has a feature relevant to this blog that you may find helpful. It’s entitled “Your Treat Foods Toolkit” and explains “why those ‘naughty’ treat foods are discretionary, and how they can fit into a healthy diet.” It’s written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Brooke Longfield and can be found on page 34. Although not related specifically to diabetes, you’ll find it helpful for portion sizes and understanding more about ‘discretionary’ foods.
Happy snacking! Sally 🙂
Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.