Your guide to snacks for those with type 2 diabetes
Confused about the types of snacks you should be eating if you, or a family member, have type 2 diabetes? HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson breaks down the essentials.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your main focus should be on controlling your weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet, just like everyone else.
There’s a common belief that people with type 2 diabetes should snack regularly to keep their blood sugars stable, but it’s not necessarily the case. If you’re trying to lose weight (which will also help to control your diabetes) the wrong choice of snacks can add extra kilojoules to your day, especially if you’re eating them when you’re not actually hungry. However, the right snacks can be a useful part of a healthy diet, especially if you’re taking a medication that can result in a drop in your blood sugar levels if you don’t eat regularly. The most important thing is to know what kinds of snacks you should be eating.
Choose snacks with less than 400kJ if you’re trying to lose weight, or less than 600kJ if you’re maintaining your weight. Make sure you always check the label for the serving size to ensure you aren’t eating more than a serve each time you snack.
It’s best to go for snacks that are lower in total fat – and particularly ones that are low in saturated fat (or ‘bad’ fat). Eating too much saturated fat can increase your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, which is also further increased when you have diabetes.
Stay away from snacks such as biscuits, chips, cakes, pastries and chocolate – these are not only high in total fat but especially high in saturated fat.
It’s okay to have snacks such as raw, unsalted nuts (in a small 30g serve) even though they are higher in total fat. This is because they contain unsaturated, or ‘heart-healthy’, fats. They also have the added bonus of other essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.
The amount of carbohydrate you should have in a snack depends on any medications you’re taking and the control you have over your blood sugar levels. Choose snacks with a low to medium glycaemic index (GI) as these are digested more slowly, which means a slower rise in your blood glucose levels.
Whole grains, reduced-fat dairy or fruit are the way to go. If it’s a packaged product, look for less than 30g of total carbohydrates per serve. Watch out for added sugar as this will add both carbohydrate and kilojoules without any other nutrients. The figure for sugar on the nutrition information panel will include both natural sugar (e.g from fruit) and added sugar – so check the ingredients list too. If sugar, honey or syrup are in the first three ingredients on the list, it’s one of the major ingredients and it’s best to avoid that snack.
Fibre helps slow the digestion of foods, leaving you fuller for longer and giving you a slower rise in your blood sugar levels. Choose snacks with more than 1.5g fibre per serve, such as a piece of wholegrain toast, a tin of baked beans or some fruit.
People with type 2 diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure. Eating too much sodium (or salt) is a major contributor and also increases your risk of stroke. Try to choose snacks that have less than 120mg sodium per 100g, or 200mg per serve. Unprocessed foods are generally low in sodium, so are the best choice.
Our dietitian’s picks
These snacks comply with all or most of the criteria for a diabetic-friendly snack.