If you’ve ever been hangry or struck down by the 3 p.m. slump, you know the magic of a good snack—after a few bites, your blood sugar levels start evening out, lifting your mood and giving your energy back. Keeping those blood sugar levels steady is especially important for people with diabetes. Diabetes affects the body’s insulin response, and in turn, blood glucose levels, which is why when it’s poorly managed it can impact things like energy and mood in the short-term, and lead to more serious conditions like heart and kidney disease down the line if you don’t get a handle on it. The good news is that smart snacking can be a great way to help keep things in line. “In order to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range, making healthy food choices is imperative,” says says Sydney Spiewak, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Connecticut.
Here’s how to build an ideal snack is you’re diabetic:
Aim for a snack between 150 and 200 calories, that Goldilocks spot. “This keeps you full enough until your next meal without leaving you feeling stuffed or spiking blood sugar,” says Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD, co-founder of Culina Health.
Avoid products with lots of added sugar or refined carbohydrates that will spike blood sugar levels, such as crackers or bread made from white flour and sugary desserts or drinks.
Make it a protein + fiber combo. This keeps you full and also supports slower digestion for steady blood sugar levels and energy.
Need some inspo? These are some of the best snacks for diabetics.
Having diabetes doesn't mean that you have to give up eating snacks. In fact, a nutritious snack can be just what your body needs to stabilize your blood sugar levels, lift your mood and give you your energy back. But planning ahead and finding the best diabetes foods to manage your blood sugar is key.
"Diabetes is a medical condition that occurs when the body either cannot produce insulin (type 1) or the insulin they are producing is not as effective as it used to be (type 2)," says dietitian and diabetes educator Caroline Thomason, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., who is based in Washington, D.C. "Insulin is a hormone used to absorb sugar in our bloodstream to be used for energy. Without insulin, our blood sugar rises and can become dangerous — having many other associated health concerns like heart disease risk and stroke." She adds that nutrition, exercise, stress and medications are some of the biggest factors that impact blood sugar levels and diabetes.
When it comes to choosing the best snack to keep blood sugar levels in control, Thomason says that foods that are high in carbs and sugar and low in nutrients like protein and fiber are particularly harmful for your blood sugar levels over time. "Ideal snacks for balanced blood sugars include foods that offer a good source of fiber and/or protein as these nutrients tend to slow down digestion, take a while to be absorbed, and thus, help stabilize blood sugars," she explains. "You might also consider pairing a high-fiber carb with a protein for the best source of quick energy and blood sugar balance."
If you're looking for some nutritious snacking inspiration, we asked Thomason and other dietitians who specialize in diabetes for their recommendations.
"Chickpeas are packed with fiber and protein, and when roasted with spices like cumin and paprika, they make a delicious and satisfying South Asian-inspired snack with anti-inflammatory benefits," says dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Shahzadi Devje, R.D., C.D.E., MSc. Thomason recommends this snack as well, saying that it's an easy high-protein, high-fiber snack that travels well and keeps your blood sugar stable. You can buy them from the grocery store or make them yourself.
"Yogurt tends to be high in protein and lower in total carbs, particularly if you focus on a plain or lightly flavored Greek yogurt," Thomason says. She recommends adding low-sugar options and adding your own toppings for a balanced snack. You can top the Greek yogurt with granola and fruit, pair it with oatmeal and toasted almonds, blend it with fruit or veggies for a low-calorie breakfast, mix it into pancake batter or freeze it for a delicious frozen dessert.
"A good source of protein and fiber, pistachios are a wonderful snack for better blood sugars," Thomason says. "I like to use the travel packs as they are so easy to throw in your bag and along with the complete protein, fiber and healthy fats it keeps me feeling full on a busy day." She adds that pairing a high-fiber carb like a piece of fruit or whole grain crackers with pistachios can provide an energy boost and stable blood sugar after eating.
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This dried fruit is chewy, sweet and incredibly versatile. Prunes are little nutrition dynamos that boast many different health benefits ranging from gastrointestinal health to bone preservation. "Often touted for their digestive benefits, prunes don’t get the credit they deserve for being a high-fiber powerhouse," Thomason says. Just one serving of four prunes contains three grams of fiber, which is considered a good source. "I love to have a couple as a snack or chop them up in yogurt for a high protein, high fiber combo."
"Eating balanced meals and snacks and limiting sugary beverages is key to preventing high blood sugar levels," says registered dietitian and pre-diabetes expert Jackie Topol, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Although store-bought smoothies can be high in added sugar, making a well-rounded one at home can be the perfect snack or mini-meal to stabilize blood sugar levels. Topol says that the ideal smoothie for diabetes is made with a milk of your choice, berries, spinach or kale, chia seeds and Greek yogurt or protein powder.
RELATED: 35 Healthy Smoothie Recipes
"Dhokla is a delicious spongy Indian snack crafted from chickpea flour and spices," Devie says. "Chickpea flour has a low glycemic index, which means it has a gradual impact on blood sugar levels." She adds that you want snacks for diabetes to be a mix of components that slowly release energy — a combination of protein, healthy fats and fiber, which help maintain your blood sugar levels steadily. "I want to emphasize that this doesn't mean forgoing your delicious cultural foods. You can explore traditional snacks rich in spices and flavors while aligning with these criteria. After all, food should be a source of joy — not just fuel."
Don't knock cottage cheese until you've tried it a few ways. It's high in protein and super creamy, making it a great snack, and it's delicious in a bowl by itself or spread on whole grain cracker crisps and topped with sliced cucumbers, radishes or a few slices of smoked salmon. Topol also likes it with chopped pears. Try to look for options with lower sodium counts when possible.
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We all know that eggs are a good source of protein, plus hardboiled ones are versatile and quick, which is what makes them such a smart snack. "Eggs are high in protein and rich in nutrients like vitamin D and choline, making them a great option for folks looking for a blood sugar-stabilizing snack. Pair with a high-fiber carb for a balanced blood sugar snack," Thomason recommends. Jazz them up with a sprinkle of your favorite spice blend, like everything bagel seasoning or paired with fiber-filled veggie sticks or whole wheat crackers.
No matter how you like to eat it, fiber- and protein-filled edamame is a smart diabetic snack. You can find frozen shelled and pre-shelled edamame, as well as crispy packaged edamame snacks. Topol recommends steamed edamame and says that eating balanced meals and snacks like this choice and limiting sugary beverages is key to preventing high blood sugar levels.
Almonds are also packed with plant-based protein, vitamin E and a plethora of other beneficial nutrients. Try sliced almonds in your breakfast omelet or tossed on your lunchtime salad. Better yet, spice them up! "Spiced almonds with a touch of turmeric and chilli powder create a flavorful and quick snack," Devie says. "A handful of almonds provide protein, which has a negligible impact on blood sugars, making them a convenient and satisfying choice."
Canned tuna is a lean source of protein, providing about 24 grams of complete protein per four-ounce serving. It's also rich in several vitamins and minerals and doesn't contain any carbs on its own. Most notably, canned tuna is an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids which may help lower risk of heart disease. Pair tuna salad with a few of your favorite veggies for a tasty, balanced bite. If you like creamy tuna, try part yogurt, part mayo (or all yogurt), a little extra virgin olive oil and vinegar and your favorite spices.
Fruit and Nut Butter
Fruit slices with some nut butter delivers the ideal mix of fiber, protein and vitamins to support balanced blood sugar. "Easy to pair with crackers, an apple or drizzle on yogurt, peanut butter is a blood sugar-friendly snack that travels well and is easy to eat for a quick pick-me-up when you need a sugar-stabilizing snack," Thomason says.
This Middle Eastern favorite contains the stabilizing duo of protein and fiber, plus it's super yummy. Use veggie sticks or whole grain pita as your dippers, or try replacing hummus for mayo as a spread on your favorite wrap or in your turkey sandwich for lunch. Devie loves pairing hummus with cucumbers, noting that this offers a plant-powered combination that's particularly beneficial for those with Type 2 diabetes. "Plant-based diets have shown promising results in improving A1C levels, a key marker of long-term blood sugar control," she says.
Hardboiled eggs are convenient and versatile, but whipping up a quick omelette can be the perfect snack if you want to change things up. "An omelette with onions, tomatoes, spinach and spices offers a protein-rich, savory snack that can help keep you full longer while supporting stable blood sugar levels," Devie explains.
RELATED: 30 Best Egg Recipes For Every Meal
Nuts & Seeds Mix
"A handful of mixed nuts and seeds, like almonds, walnuts and flaxseeds, offers healthy fats and antioxidants that can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart issues often associated with Type 2 diabetes," Devie says. In fact, one study found that people with type 2 diabetes who regularly consumed nuts had a lower risk of heart disease, a serious complication of diabetes.
RELATED: 6 Healthiest Nuts to Eat
"Berries are one of the highest fiber fruits, with raspberries taking the lead with a whopping nine grams of fiber per cup," Thomason says. All berries are also rich in antioxidants, which can help fight cell damage and combat inflammation. "When it comes to diabetes, fiber helps slow digestion down and prevent major blood sugar spikes. Pair berries with a protein for an even more balanced snack."
Believe it or not, popcorn is considered a whole grain and is a good source of fiber. Skip the movie theatre popcorn dripping in butter, and opt for air-popped or lightly oil-popped varieties. Pre-portioned packs are always a good idea, or you can buy a big bag of popcorn and portion it out yourself into individual baggies to have for the week.
Need a break from tuna? Try canned salmon and prepare it the same way, then pile it on a few whole grain crackers or eat alone with veggies. "Whether you’re buying it canned, dried or smoked, salmon is a nutrient powerhouse for blood sugar balance," Thomason says. "Particularly salmon from Alaska is guaranteed to be wild-caught, making it a great source of omega-3s and vitamin D." Not only does salmon boast heart healthy fats, but Thomason adds that it is an excellent source of protein and nutrients of concern like vitamin D for diabetes.
One meta analysis found that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed sources of monounsaturated fats (like avocados) saw improvements to blood glucose management. Avocado toast on whole grain bread, especially one topped with an egg, is a fantastic snack for people with diabetes since it has a combination of healthy fats, fiber-rich carbs and protein.
Guacamole and Veggies
Speaking of avocado, guacamole is a great choice for diabetics since it is loaded with healthy fats and a plethora of beneficial nutrients. "Guacamole with raw vegetables like bell peppers and carrots introduce heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and dietary fiber to your diet," Devie says. "This combination of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants contributes to overall well-being and can potentially help reduce inflammation, a concern in Type 2 diabetes."
RELATED: How to Make the Ultimate Guacamole
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
This article was originally written by Senior Health Editor Alyssa Jung. It was most recently updated by Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Director and registered dietitian Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Stefani handles all nutrition content, product testing and evaluation for Good Housekeeping, staying up-to-date on the latest research to provide evidence-based reporting on all things diet and nutrition, and she also runs large-scale tests and analyses for products ranging from protein bars to supplements.
For this article, the following experts were interviewed for their recommendations:
Caroline Thomason, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., is a media dietitian and diabetes educator in Washington, D.C. She writes for top-tier media outlets, supports nutrition and wellness brands as a nutrition expert, and runs a nutrition private practice. In her private practice, she works with women who want to stop dieting and find confidence with food.
Shahzadi Devje, R.D., C.D.E., MSc, is an award-winning South Asian Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Canada. As a familiar face on national TV, she shares easy and wholesome cultural recipes and actionable tips. Shahzadi is a staunch advocate for nutrition messages that embody inclusivity and compassion, driven by her unwavering belief in the power of food to heal, connect and bring joy.
Jackie Topol, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., is a registered dietitian, pre-diabetes expert and culinary nutritionist whose mission is to help people use food-as-medicine to manage and reverse a variety of health conditions. She has a background in clinical nutrition and also opened a private practice in 2020. Jackie shares her passion for healthy eating and therapeutic cooking through culinary classes and demos, which she has been leading in various settings for over a decade and co-founded the Culinary Nutrition Collaborative.
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