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Are snacks a good idea for diabetics?

Let’s talk about snacks for diabetics! It’s a question we’re often asked on Diabetic South Africans, and now that we have a few meal plans to choose from, it’s one that we can tell has a number of different answers. So we asked three different dieticians to tell us if they think snacks are a good idea for people with diabetes. Here’s what they had to say…

Snacks for diabetics

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“Snacks were originally suggested for diabetics to help prevent hypoglycemic events (low blood sugar) which was more likely with older generations of oral diabetic medications and older versions of insulin. With the advancement in medication (both oral and in insulin), planned snacks are not as critical. In fact, snacking too often can lead to increased blood sugar and weight gain.  

In my experience, when meals are properly balanced, snacks are not needed unless there is a significant delay in meals. On the other hand, some people enjoy snacking. They feel better both mentally and emotionally when snacks are provided. In this case, they can be included into the meal plan.”

Snacking for exercise

“Remember that exercise can also cause low blood glucose. It is important to check blood glucose before and after you exercise. People react differently to exercise depending on the type, duration and intensity: some people see a rapid drop and others an increase in blood sugar levels, so it is important to test and see what your individual response is.

As always, you should see a dietician to help you plan suitable snacks for different situations. Fresh snack ideas can bring a sense of fun into your daily eating plan.”

Genevieve Jardine

Diabetes and snacking

“From the many years I have been advising diabetic patients, I will have to say that this depends from person to person. I don’t find it mandatory for diabetics to snack. It all depends on lifestyle and glucose control and medication prescribed. Many of my clients do very well with either no snacking or having mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack only. Evening snacking depends on the glucose reading in the morning.

Ajita-Ratanjee-Sweet-Life-magazine

I find how the snack is made up very important. Having some protein with a carbohydrate always helps maintain glucose control and curbs cravings. For example, a small fruit with cheese, 2 crackers with egg, or plain yoghurt. I try to keep people’s food preferences in mind when planning snacks to make the options easy and tasty for them.

The best way to work around snacking is to have the person test their blood sugar levels regularly and at different time of day and night to establish what their blood sugar levels are doing, and then prescribe snacks accordingly.”

Ajita Ratanjee

3 different types of diabetics

“There are so many different scenarios this can be applied to:

1. An overweight person living with Type 2 diabetes

This person might choose to avoid snacking for behavioural issues – sometimes having stricter boundaries can help prevent overeating. For the person who tends to overeat at meal times if they are too hungry, a small snack could help prevent this. Clinically, I think that spreading carb intake throughout the day is a good idea – it gives the pancreas less glucose to deal with at any given time. It all depends on the individual pattern.


2. A person with Type 2 diabetes trying to gain weight

Yes! Snack!  Get those calories in and spread the carbs out!  If needing to gain weight, but blood sugar is high, then low carb and high protein/fat snacks would work (after sorting out medication).


3.  A person with Type 1 diabetes

This gets a bit more complicated and is very individual.  Carbs need insulin and most people don’t enjoy many injections a day. So, having carby snacks often tempts someone to eat without covering the carbs with insulin.  A carb free snack like cheese or biltong is a great idea to help those people.  

It can be dangerous to keep injecting insulin for carbs without letting that insulin work its way out of the system – it can cause insulin stacking and this can drop blood sugar and cause a hypo. When you already have insulin on board (within 2 to 4 hours of injecting), you’ll need less for the snack.  Pumps and smart glucometers take this into account, but for those doing manual calculations, there might be a problem.  So the easiest option here is carb free snacks without insulin.

So in summary:

  • What does the patient’s blood sugar profile look like?
  • Have they told you their goals?
  • What are their behaviour patterns?
  • Once you know these things, you can decide on the best possible plan…”

Louise Ferreira

What do you think? Do you snack?

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.