Food can be a confusing topic if you have type 2 diabetes, and the question of what you can snack on is no less fraught than what to eat for dinner. In general, the same guidelines apply to snacks as to other meals—cut the carbs, watch the calories, and most of all eat real food, not processed junk. And of course, keep track of how specific foods affect your glucose readings since you may react differently than your neighbor.
But when it comes to snacks, perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What can I snack on?” maybe we should be asking, “Do I really need to snack?” Or, “Should I be snacking at all?”
Ask yourself WHY you’re snacking
Before you decide what to snack on, take a moment and ask yourself why you’re snacking. Are you really hungry? Or are you looking for a snack purely out of habit or boredom, because it’s that empty time between lunch and dinner and snacking is what you normally do? In other words: Are you snacking or because you really need to, or just because you think you ought to?
If you’re snacking because you’re truly hungry, or because your blood sugar is dipping, then by all means to ahead and have a snack. But if not, then holding off till dinner time is probably a better option.
Snacking, the great American passtime
The idea that we all need an afternoon (or mid-morning, or after-dinner) snack is a relatively new thing. And, not surprisingly, it’s a habit that has been largely driven by the food industry. Millions of dollars per year go into advertising snack foods and encouraging us to snack between meals–and don’t be fooled by advertising pushing seemingly-healthy snacks like cheese and vegetables. The goal is the same: to get us to buy (and eat) more food.
The end result is that snacking has become a habit as ingrained as pouring a bowl of cereal for breakfast of adding a soft drink with a meal, and the consequences have been much the same. Our snack habit has added inches to our waists.
The problem is that it’s very easy to eat far too many calories through snacking without even realizing it. A handful of nuts here and a few bites of cheese there may not seem like much, but they add up. And the truth is that for the most part, if you’re eating the right foods at meal times, you shouldn’t need to snack between meals.
Take a closer look at your meals
If you find yourself hungry again two hours after breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it might be time to examine what you’re eating at mealtime. A diet too high in carbs will leave you hungry shortly after you eat, even when you focus on complex carbs to avoid blood sugar spikes. Making sure you include enough fat and protein at each meal goes a long way toward staving off hunger pangs between meals. Beverages with artificial sweeteners also tend to make you hungrier between meals.
If you simply MUST snack, choose these foods
First and foremost, choose real food. Most foods marketed as “snacks” aren’t really snacks at all—they’re treats which can be enjoyed occasionally but not on a regular basis. And many “snack foods” are nutritionally-empty junk best avoided altogether.
Remember, any snack you eat is that many fewer calories you can have at your next meal. So make those calories count. Choose nutritionally-dense foods that emphasize protein and healthy fat but contain few carbs. A few good choices include:
- Peanut butter (provided it has no added sugar or other sweeteners)
- Non-starchy vegetables paired with peanut butter or hummus
- Plain yogurt with a small serving of fruit
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Beef jerky (just read the nutritional label—many brands of jerky contain sugar)
And most importantly, make sure your “snack” really is a snack. It’s far too easy to turn a snack into a small meal and eat more calories than you need for the day. Keep snacks to a hundred calories or less if you feel you simply must snack between meals.