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One of the problems in managing diabetes is that many common snacks send blood sugars soaring.It only takes a tiny amount of carbohydrate, as little as 5 to 10 grams, the equivalent of 20 to 40 calories, to send blood sugar levels up into the unsafe zone.

And as most diabetics learn to their chagrin, the higher blood sugar levels go, the harder it is to get them back down. Some tasty snacks, however, won't elevate your blood sugar levels. You can still have salty, crunchy snacks, meaty, savory snacks, and even some sweet and creamy snacks, but you may have to plan ahead. Here are twenty healthy snacks for blood sugar control to be on the lookout for the next time you go shopping.

1. Whole-fat yogurt to which you add your own sweeteners is a great way to get calcium and stop hunger between meals. All milk products release sugar into the bloodstream, but dairy products made with whole milk release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, so that your pancreas or your insulin injection has time to keep blood sugar levels steady. Add stevia and no-calorie flavorings of your choice to plain unflavored yogurt, and eat without guilt.

2. Toasted nori is a sensible alternative to chips and crisps. This is a paper-thin dried seaweed chip that is made not from seaweed alone, but with the addition of soy beans, chili flakes, and salt. Look for toasted nori. You probably wouldn't enjoy the nori used to roll sushi as a snack.

3. Sugar-free Jell-O gelatin (jelly), if you get the kind that is not sweetened with maltodextrin (which is a relatively fast-acting form of sugar), is OK between meals. It's essentially impossible to overeat sugar-free Jell-O, although it's easy to mistake sugar-added Jell-O for the sugar-free. Don't add fruit to your gelatin. Fruit has both calories and sugar-derived carbs.

4. Jicama sticks are an interesting vegetable alternative to chips and crisps. Wash and peel a jicama root and cut into thin strips. Chill, and serve the Mexican way, with chili powder (be careful not to get the powder into your eyes) or use with a little low-carb dip.

5. Soups are a great snack if you are eating leftovers from your own homemade soups, not so great if you are eating canned soup. Any soup you make with a slowly simmered stock that has not been flavored with MSG fills you stomach and takes a long time to be digested. The soup in your stomach helps you avoid hunger for other foods.

6. Nuts, especially almonds, contain fatty acids and fiber that fight appetite. If you are feeling the munchies coming on, eat a small handful of almonds, up to about 12 whole nuts. Over 30 studies have found that the fiber in nuts actually helps you lose weight even if you don't cut calories.

7. Rye crisps make a good substitute for sandwich bread. They are crunchy but not crumbly, and they have just a gram or two of carbohydrate, compared to 10 to 15 in white bread. Look for Wasa Fiber Rye and Bran-a-Crisp.

8. Tea and coffee with stevia and heavy cream. You will actually have lower blood sugars if you add heavy cream to your hot beverages. Both creamer and half and half contain enough digestible table sugar or milk sugars to elevate your blood sugar levels.

9. Celery sticks, carrot sticks, and radishes are a combination that will blunt your appetite and stop your eating--when the radish burns your tongue! It is true that carrots are a relatively high glycemic index vegetable, but if you eat no more than 4 or 5 sticks, or about 50 grams/two ounces of carrot, you will not do damage to your blood sugar control.

10. Jerky, no matter what kind of meat is used to make it, is an acceptable snack for diabetics working to keep their blood sugar levels under control. The chewing action required to eat the jerky satisfies appetite, as does the protein in the meat. Diabetics who are on low-salt diets, however, should not eat jerky or other high-sodium foods.

11. Hard cheese will not run up your blood sugar levels, but it is loaded with calories. You should take care to eat a salad sometime during the same day you eat hard cheese to reduce the acid load on your kidneys caused by the cheese.

12. Broth and bouillon you make yourself although not broth from a can or bouillon you make from bouillon cubes. Commercial bouillon cubes contain too much salt and MSG. Your own homemade broths and bouillon contain tiny particles that take time to digest in your stomach, blunting your appetite and slowing down the release of sugars from other foods into your bloodstream.

13. Tuna fish is a good way to get a little protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids with almost no carbohydrate. You may prefer "tuna steaks" for snacks. From the standpoint of managing your blood sugar levels, tuna with mayonnaise or salad dressing is OK, but don't eat a whole meal at snack time.

14. Smoked salmon or whitefish and cream cheese on a rye crisp, rather than a bagel, is another way to get protein and omega-3 fatty acids without carbs or a lot of calories.

15. Lettuce wraps are a good way to make a "sandwich" without the bread. Leftover roast is healthier than deli cuts for the filling.

16. Shiritake noodles are a low-carb substitute for cup o' noodles. Shiritake noodles usually come ready to eat in a foil package. Just open the package, cut the noodles with scissors, and drop into boiling broth to which you have added scallions, sliced onion, and the green vegetables of your choice. To keep the noodles tender, warm them through, don't cook them twice. Cubes of tofu added to the soup help "tame" the texture of the noodles.

17. Pickles are a good snack to eat half an hour or so before meals. The vinegar in the pickle turns into bicarbonate in your small intestine, slowing the release of sugars from any carbohydrates you eat with your main meal.

18. Fresh fruit, as long as you eat just one piece at a time, is OK for most diabetics--as long as you eat less carbohydrate at your main meal. Don't eat dried fruit unless your meal plan permits. Dried fruit is filled with antioxidants and fiber, but it's also a potent source of sugar. Eat fresh fruit during the day, not after dinner, to keep blood sugars from going too high at night.

19. Hot dogs and sausages are filling snacks, sold by street vendors in many parts of the world. If you are diabetic, however, you need to eat the hot dog or the sausage without bread, and remember, these foods are low-carb but high-fat. Eat in moderation.

20. Luncheon meats and deli meats are safe for your blood sugar levels but often high in fat or sodium. Eat in moderation, without the bread.

Certain foods are not on the list. There's just no such thing as a safe serving size of regular chips, bread, cookies, cake, pie, doughnuts, or ice cream for most diabetics. That's because when you finish off one 100-calorie package of mini-cookies, you're likely to look for a second. If you eat a small bowl of ice cream today, chances are you will "accidentally" grab a bigger bowl for your ice cream next time.

It's also not a good idea for diabetics to eat most "sugar-free" foods. That's because sugar alcohols also become sugar after digestion, but the diabetic doesn't experience elevated blood sugars for at least 24 hours after eating the food. You won't have high blood sugar levels today, but you will tomorrow, when you eat desserts flavored with xylitol, maltitol, erythritol, and other ingredients ending in -ol. The small amount of erythritol added to stevia, however, is small enough not to be a problem.

All of these snack foods can be eaten safely by most diabetics, but there is one thing every diabetic needs to know about eating between meals. When diabetics keep their blood sugar levels at normal levels, appetite fades away. The real secret to feeling satisfied with the food you eat is not all about the food, it's all about you. When you keep your diabetes under control, keeping your appetite under control is far easier than you have ever imagined.

  • Collison KS, Zaidi MZ, Subhani SN, Al-Rubeaan K, Shoukri M, Al-Mohanna FA. Sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage consumption correlates with BMI, waist circumference, and poor dietary choices in school children. BMC Public Health. 2010 May 9,10:234
  • Smart CE, Ross K, Edge JA, King BR, McElduff P, Collins CE. Can children with Type 1 diabetes and their caregivers estimate the carbohydrate content of meals and snacks?Diabet Med. 2010 Mar,27(3):348-53.