Are you sticking to three healthy meals per day but still having a hard time stabilizing your glucose numbers? Many of my clients find it surprising that I recommend they actually eat more frequently than just three times per day. It seems counterintuitive to them – they think that if they’re trying to improve their eating habits they should be eating less not more.
In reality, though, inconsistent eating habits or not eating for several hours between meals can make it increasingly difficult to stabilize blood glucose. Going hours between meals may lead to numbers that are too low, sending you towards the nearest vending machine or causing you to over-eat at your next meal. So, snacking between meals can be an essential part of daily diabetes management to help avoid major peaks and valleys in blood sugar ranges and also to prevent over-eating at mealtimes. But it’s the nutritional quality and portion sizes of your snacks that can either make or break your daily diabetes management plan.
The goal when snacking is to raise your blood glucose numbers to a healthy level in between meals at a gradual pace. This can usually be accomplished by pairing a high-fiber carbohydrate with a bit of protein. While the complex carbohydrates work to increase your blood glucose numbers to a healthy range, the protein helps to slow this process to a steady speed, allowing for more stabilized numbers and consistent energy levels.
Need some examples? Take a look at these perfect pairings that are easy to prepare and perfect for an on-the-go snack:
1. Veggies and Hummus; Hummus is a dip traditionally made of chickpeas, olive oil and sesame seed paste (tahini) and is rich in heart-healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates. Pair a couple of tablespoons of this Mediterranean favorite with crunchy, high-fiber veggies like cucumbers, carrots or celery for a tasty mid-day snack.
2. Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fruit: Yogurt and fruit is a great way to kick a sweet tooth craving without sending your blood sugars through the roof. Due to its unique straining process, Greek yogurt tends to be higher in protein and gut-healthy bacteria than other yogurt varieties. Unfortunately, many yogurts on the market tend to be sweetened with added syrups or sugar-laden preserves. Avoid an unnecessary sugar rush by opting for plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with a handful of your favorite fresh fruit.
3. Apples and Nut Butter: Apples (with the skin left on) are a great source of fiber. Pair your favorite variety with a couple of tablespoons of natural nut or seed butter and you have a fantastic, energy-boosting snack. Keep an eye out for nut butters with a lengthy ingredient list that may contain added sugars or oils that are not heart healthy. Whether you’re opting for a spread made of peanuts, almonds, cashews or seeds, the ingredients should be as simple as possible – just nuts or seeds and salt.
4. Tuna Fish and Whole Grain Crackers: Canned tuna is an inexpensive way to get in a whopping dose of protein with the added benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which some studies suggest can reduce inflammation in the body and may improve insulin sensitivity. Try a lightened-up version of traditional tuna salad by replacing calorie-dense mayo with plain, Greek yogurt or squeeze fresh lemon juice and add fresh-cracked pepper. Place on top of high-fiber, whole grain crackers for a good mix of complex carbs, healthy fats and satiating protein.
5. Homemade Energy Bars: Protein bars and energy bars seem to be all the rage these days and understandably so. With the myriad of varieties in most grocery stores and convenient packaging, it’s no surprise that many people opt for a bar when trying to choose a healthy snack. But buyers beware; many seemingly healthy bars can rack up as many grams of added sugar as your typical candy bar or have long lists of processed ingredients. Try making a batch of your own bars by mixing your favorite selection of fiber-rich nuts, dried fruits or oats. Check out different recipes for ideas on how to blend ingredients for the perfect bar without the added thickeners, sweeteners or processed protein powders.
Adding one to three healthy snacks per day can be extremely beneficial for diabetes management. Just make sure to give consideration to portion sizes – for your snacks and your meals.