Not everyone with diabetes has to eat snacks. Sometimes inappropriately adding snacks can cause unwanted weight gain or a rise in blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Why snacks?

Snacks are a way of dealing with hunger between meals. Snacks can help you maintain concentration at work and eat reasonably at your next meal.

A snack is indicated in certain circumstances, to:

  • Prevent hypoglycemia (blood glucose < 4 mmol/L)
  • Meet your nutritional needs
  • Avoid overeating

To prevent hypoglycemia, you should have a snack containing 15 g of carbohydrates.

1. Prevent hypoglycemia

You are at risk of hypoglycemia if you take insulin or an insulin secretagogue: glyburide (Diaßeta®, Euglucon®), glimepiride (Amaryl®), gliclazide (Diamicron®), repaglinide (GlucoNorm®).

A snack can help prevent hypoglycemia if you find yourself in any of the following situations:

  • your meal is delayed;
  • you have not been rigorously following your meal plan;
  • you are drinking alcohol on any empty stomach or in the evening;
  • you are unexpectedly exercising or doing some physical activity at a higher-than-normal intensity or duration;
  • your medication’s peak action occurs while you are sleeping.

To prevent hypoglycemia over a longer period of time, add some protein to your snack. Protein is found in the Milk and Alternatives and Meat and Alternatives food groups.

2. Meet your nutritional needs

If you have a small appetite, snacks are an important way to meet your nutritional needs. Snacks do the job of providing the calories and nutrients necessary to maintain your health.

3. Help you avoid overeating

Snacks can help moderate your appetite and lower the risk of overeating. To stave off hunger pangs until the next meal, snacks should contain:

  • Fibre: Fibre doesn’t increase blood glucose levels. Fibre swells in the liquid in the stomach and makes you feel full faster.
  • Protein: The satiating effect  from protein persists, which helps you wait until the next meal.
  • Carbohydrates: They increase blood glucose levels and counter the lack of energy resulting from hunger.

Real Hunger or False Hunger?

Learn to distinguish between real and false hunger by being aware of the triggers that prompt you to eat.

To help you decide, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I eating because I feel stressed or emotionally upset?
  • Am I reacting to an external stimulus (for example: the sight or smell of food, colleagues offering me food, etc.)?
  • Am I eating because my meals aren’t sufficiently balanced or filling?

To find the answer to your question, keep a food diary that notes not only what you’ve eaten but also your emotions and the context at the time (environment, particular event).

After you become aware of your pattern, don’t hesitate to discuss possible strategies with a dietitian or another member of your diabetes health care team.

Some Snack Ideas

A healthy, filling snack should contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein. 

Examples of low-carbohydrate snacks

  • Raw vegetables (carrots, turnips, celeriac, sweet peppers, radishes, broccoli, cucumber, mushrooms, cauliflower, snow peas or snap peas, etc.) + 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of tzaziki or hummus
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of low-sodium vegetable juice + 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, soybeans, etc.) or seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
  • Raw vegetables + 1 hardboiled egg
  • 1 ounce (30 g) of low-fat cheese (20% M.F. or less )
  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) of edamame beans + 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of homemade vinaigrette

Opt for foods high in fibre with little or no added sugar.

Examples of snacks containing about 15 g of carbohydrates

  • 1 small homemade muffin
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of wholegrain cereal (for example: Cheerios® Multi-Grain) + ½ cup (125 ml) of 2% (or lower M.F.) milk
  • 1 slice of wholegrain bread +1 tablespoon (15 ml) of almond or peanut butter
  • ½ wholegrain pita bread + 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of guacamole
  • 5-6 wholegrain crackers + 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of canned tuna (water packed) or canned salmon
  • ½ wholegrain tortilla, brushed with oil, seasoned with your favourite spices (cumin chili powder, etc.) and baked in the oven
  • 1 apple + 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of peanut butter
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of fruit sauce with no added sugar + 4 walnuts
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of fruit salad with no added sugar
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of fruit pieces + ? cup (75 ml) of 2% (or lower M.F.) cottage cheese
  • ½ of this smoothie recipe: ¼ banana + ½ cup (125 ml) of berries + ½ cup (125 ml) of milk
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of unsweetened, fat-free fruit yogurt
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of Greek fruit yogurt
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) of plain yogurt with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of maple syrup + 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of an All-Bran®-type cereal
  • ¾ cup (175 ml) of enriched soy milk or 1 cup (250 ml) of milk
  • ? cup (150 ml) of carrot salad with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of raisins, 5 almonds + 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of yogurt-and-Dijon-mustard vinaigrette
  • Salad with tomatoes, bocconcini and balsamic vinegar