If you have diabetes and tend to get hungry during the day, is it okay to have a snack between meals? The short answer is yes!
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According to the CDC, more than 37 million Americans have diabetes—1 in 10 people. The majority (90-95%) are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, your diet plays an enormous role in managing your blood sugar, including the types of snacks you choose.
A snack that provides protein and healthy fats and is lower in carbohydrates may help keep you full and reduce the chances of blood sugar spikes. Read on to discover the strategies for choosing your snack, plus our top picks of protein-rich snacks.
What to Look for in a Diabetes-Friendly Snack
First, before making a trip to the kitchen, listen to your hunger cues. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry for a snack or if the desire to nibble stems from habit, boredom or stress. If you are hungry, choose a snack that’s nutritious, easy to prepare and can keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
When choosing a snack, consider its nutritional content, specifically:
Fiber can help slow digestion and delay glucose absorption by absorbing water and forming a gel. Regularly consuming fiber may help improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, according to a 2021 meta-analysis in the Journal of Functional Foods. Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, nuts, seeds and most vegetables and fruits, are excellent sources of fiber.
Including healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, as part of your meals and snacks is essential. Fats may help you fill up to feel full longer, suggests 2019 research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, especially when consumed with fiber. Together with protein and fiber, fat can help slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream to prevent sudden sugar spikes and crashes.
According to the CDC, having diabetes doubles your risk of developing heart disease compared to those who don’t have the condition. Since high blood pressure is also one of the risk factors for developing heart disease, choosing a low-sodium snack may help maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
Choosing a snack with 15 grams or less of carbohydrates per serving may help manage your blood sugar levels. However, this recommendation may vary per person, so working with a registered dietitian will help identify your needs.
Like fiber and fat, protein plays a role in regulating hunger by slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Many protein-rich foods also have healthy fats and/or fiber. The exception is if you have compromised kidney function. In that case, you may need to monitor your protein intake.
7 Best High-Protein Snacks for Diabetes
Here are our top seven picks of high-protein snacks that are best if you have type 2 diabetes:
1. Cheese Cubes
Cheese is undoubtedly a filling and delicious food, containing very few carbs. According to the USDA, a 1-ounce slice of cheddar cheese provides 115 calories, 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, and 180 milligrams of sodium. A 2019 review published in Advances in Nutrition found that dairy consumption, including when it comes to cheese, is associated with a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes.
2. Mixed Nuts
With a winning combo of nutrients, nuts make an ideal snack for people with diabetes. They’re low in carbohydrates and an excellent source of healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition to their unsaturated fat and fiber, they also have magnesium and plant compounds called polyphenols, which may help regulate your blood sugar levels, per a 2021 meta-analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Walnuts, pistachios, cashew, hazelnuts, peanuts and almonds are all excellent options. For example, almonds offer 6 grams of protein per one-ounce serving, according to the USDA.
While almonds and nuts are high in fat, a 2019 study from Nutrition Research indicated that eating more than 1 to 2 servings of nuts per week may not promote weight gain when one consumes a balanced diet. Some nuts, such as almonds, have also been found to improve gut health, promote weight loss and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and death related to these conditions, per a 2021 review published in Nutrients.
Choose unsalted and unflavored nuts to minimize the amount of added salt and sugar. You can also buy nuts in bulk to make a DIY trail mix.
3. Veggies with Nut butter
Not a fan of eating whole nuts? Consider pairing nut butter with celery sticks, baby carrots or apple slices to make a filling snack. According to the USDA, one tablespoon of peanut butter offers almost 4 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat and nearly 1 gram of fiber. Make sure you read the nutrition labels and choose an option with no added sugar and low sodium.
4. Sunflower Seeds
Like nuts, sunflower seeds are also rich in protein, fat and fiber, offering 3 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat and about 2 grams of fiber for every ounce of (in-shell) unsalted sunflower seeds, per the USDA.
Sunflower seeds have been shown to help reduce glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes, suggests 2021 research in Cureus. When combined with carbs, the protein and fat in sunflower seeds may slow digestion, stymying the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Antioxidants found in sunflower seeds, including chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, may also have the blood sugar lowering effect, though more research is needed.
Edamame is one of the nutritious snacks for people with diabetes. Like animal-based protein, these baby soybeans are a complete and easily absorbed protein, per a 2022 article in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Research, making them a great plant-based protein option. According to the USDA, one cup (160 grams) of shelled and unsalted edamame provides 18 grams of protein and 12 grams of fat. Despite containing 14 grams of carbs, shelled edamame also consists of 8 grams of fiber. They are also easy to prepare: Buy frozen and microwave them for 1 to 2 minutes or boil them until warmed.
6. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Another excellent in-between-meals snack option is eating hard-boiled eggs. One egg provides 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. Eggs have about half a gram of carbohydrates, so they have little effect on blood sugar levels. In fact, a 2020 study in Clinical Nutrition found that eating an egg as a bedtime snack helped lower fasting glucose and improved markers of insulin sensitivity compared to a yogurt snack, which was high in carbohydrates. Also, eggs are nutrient-dense, so eating one egg daily may not pose any health risk, including for those with diabetes, per a 2020 article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Enjoy them poached, boiled or scrambled. Pair the cooked egg with a couple of whole grain crackers or sliced veggies for added fiber to feel fuller and manage blood sugar.
7. Greek Yogurt
Craving something sweet? Consider Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is packed with nutrients and provides many health benefits, like supporting muscle and bone health. Plus, one 7-ounce container of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt contains 20 grams of protein and 8 grams of carbs. That’s double the amount of protein and half of the carbs of regular yogurt. If Greek yogurt is not enough, consider adding some low-glycemic fruits and walnuts, like this Greek Yogurt with Fruit & Nuts recipe.
Other Tips to Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
You may or may not need a bedtime snack, depending on your health goals. Nevertheless, these are other ways you can manage your blood sugar levels.
Follow the Diabetes Plate Method
The Diabetes Plate Method means filling half your plate (or bowl) with non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter with lean proteins and the remaining quarter with carb-containing foods. This way of structuring your meals can help you incorporate more vegetables and keep your carb intake in check. Check out our Diabetes-Friendly Easy Plate Method Dinners for meal ideas.
Be Physically Active
Exercising regularly also helps stabilize your blood sugar levels. Your body may also become more sensitive to insulin, explains the CDC, meaning you may only need smaller amounts of the hormone to decrease blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of physical activity of moderate intensity every week, with at least two days of the week involving exercise that focus on building and maintaining muscles.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, reducing your visceral fat and maintaining a healthy weight may also lower your risk of other health problems. Adopting healthy eating strategies and incorporating exercise routines may help.
The Bottom line
Whether you need in-between-meal snacks will depend on several factors, including how well your blood sugar level is controlled, whether you are on insulin, whether you have other health conditions, your hunger level and more. Finding the balance that fits your health goals and lifestyle is key to managing your diabetes. Talk to your primary care provider, registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to develop a customized meal plan that considers the timing of your meals and snacks. Our library of recipes, meal plans and articles at Diabetes Diet Center can inspire you to manage your diabetes your way.