Part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes are snacks. Find out which snacks to steer clear of and which to choose instead.

Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., F.A.N.D.
November 11, 2020
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If you are a person living with diabetes, snacks are an essential part of your daily meal plan. Snacks help keep blood sugar in check, especially if you have a long span between meals. Choosing the wrong snacks can spike your blood sugar levels which can have long-term effects, but won't make you feel good short term, too. Although all foods can be eaten in small amounts, some foods can really do a number on the blood sugar of a person with diabetes. Knowing which snacks to avoid is a good first step, but even better is having a list of what you should grab instead (try these 10 Low-Carb Snacks for Diabetes). Below you will find 10 of the worst snack choices for people with diabetes, and better choices you can feel good about reaching for.

1. Candy Bar

"While many people look for a "pick-me-up" in the afternoon, often their choice can cause an increase in blood sugar, like a candy bar," says Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., registered dietitian in Dallas, Texas. Lower in fiber and protein, a sugary snack will leave you looking for more sugar soon after. The goal is to choose a snack with fiber and protein to help stabilize your blood sugar and leave you feeling satisfied after the snack.

Instead: Goodson recommends having whole grain crackers with cheese, Greek yogurt with berries, or high-fiber granola bar (about 120-150 calories) and beef jerky (1-2 ounces) for a blood-sugar stabilizing snack.

2. Processed Meat Products

Melissa Halas, M.A., R.D.N., C.D.E., private practice dietitian at Melissa's Healthy Living explains, "Ultra-processed meat products like pepperoni, pastrami and lunch meat can contain significant sodium and saturated fat, contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease risks." People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure. Plus, Halas adds that the consumption of processed meat is linked to various cancers (especially colon cancer). So, while it may be low-carb, skip that slice of provolone wrapped in lunch meat.

Instead: Halas recommends combining carbohydrates with lean protein or healthy fat to help keep you feeling full without spiking your blood glucose. So reach for cheese and apple slices, fruit topped with nut butter, or vegetable sticks—like carrots and bell peppers—with hummus.

3. Baked Potato Chips

Halas also says that processed typical snack foods, like puffed or baked potato chips, are not good for snacking with diabetes. "The starch used in these foods is mainly refined carbs. All the work is done for you, so as they quickly dissolve, you want more, and there's no fiber or bulk to slow down a blood glucose spike." Even though they may sound healthier since they're baked, they're not a great choice for people with diabetes.

Instead: Halas recommends opting for real whole foods, like lightly salted pistachios, which can help satiate a potato chip craving since they're crunchy and salty. (Learn more about the health benefits of pistachios.)

4. Cookies

Some cookies are better than others when it comes to diabetes, but most are high in sugar and refined grains (try these diabetes-friendly cookies when your sweet tooth calls). Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., R.D., L.D. Owner Sound Bites Nutrition, LLC calls out Oreos as particularly problematic since they're high in sugar and fat and people can't seem to eat just a few.

Instead: Andrews says, "If you have a craving for something crunchy or chocolate, I recommend cocoa dusted almonds. They're low in sugar, crunchy, taste good, and provide heart healthy monounsaturated fat and vitamin E."

5. Specialty Coffee Drinks

If you're planning on getting that special coffee with the caramel, whipped cream and chocolate sauce on your snack break—you may want to think again. These drinks can weigh in at up to 600 calories and also have a hefty dose of saturated fat and added sugar. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and should opt for a heart-healthy diet lower in saturated fat. The amount of carbohydrates, including sugar, found in most of these beverages can also send blood sugar levels through the roof. Plus, most people don't fill up from drinks, so you'll likely need something to eat too.

Instead: Opt for a plain cup of coffee (hot or iced) with a splash of milk. If you're really hankering for flavored ask for just one pump of syrup in your drink to cut down on sugar.

6. Pretzels

"Snacking on only pretzels in between meals only invites an unwanted glucose spike," says registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and author of Healthy One Pan Dinners, Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC.

Instead: White recommends teaming up your pretzels with nut butter, hummus or a cheese stick to provide some slower digesting nutrients and a more balanced snack.

7. Flavored Yogurts

Flavored yogurts are not the best choice for people with diabetes. According to Tejal Pathak, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.D.C.E.S., registered dietitian in private practice based in Houston, Texas explains, "They contain anywhere from 26 to 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving (which is 2 carbohydrate choices) and 16 to 19 grams of added sugars or even more as it varies by brands."

Instead: Pathak recommends choosing one serving of plain Greek yogurt that provides 6 to 10 grams of total carbohydrate and 15 to 23 grams of protein. Top with fruits, like berries, peach or mango to add natural sweetness to your yogurt.

8. Crackers

Some crackers really are made with fiber-rich grains, but watch out for crackers without any fiber. Although low-fiber crackers may seem healthy if they have "whole grains" on the label, Megan Byrd, R.D. of The Oregon Dietitian says that "doesn't mean [the crackers] aren't full of sugar and refined carbohydrates." These sorts of crackers can lead to spikes in blood sugar, and should be avoided.

Instead: Byrd recommends reaching for a high-fiber cracker that is lower in net carbohydrates, like Wasa crackers. You can always check the nutrition facts panel and compare labels to see which is the best choice available to you.

9. Hostess Twinkies

You're likely not surprised to see a packaged cream-filled cake on this list, but these types of sweets can be a particularly poor choice if you have diabetes. Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N, Owner and Founder of Genki Nutrition did a little digging into the Hostess Twinkies nutrition facts panel. "Twinkies' first ingredient is sugar and there are three carb counts (one carb count = 15 grams of carbohydrates)." In addition, people with diabetes need to be mindful of heart health. Valdez says Twinkies have high amounts of saturated fats and sodium which are associated with a greater risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.

Instead: Choose a snack combination that will not cause high spikes in blood sugar because of the higher fiber and protein content. Valdez recommends sliced apples with peanut butter.

10. Dried Fruit

Dried fruit does contain fiber and nutrients, but the dehydration process removes water leaving the dried fruit smaller, sweeter, and easier to eat more of compared to the fresh varieties. Certainly snacking on dried fruit is better than eating a donut or cookie, but eating a few handfuls on its own can increase blood sugar levels dramatically. Also, many dried fruits contain added sugar, so be sure to check labels.

Instead: Choose fresh fruits instead that are high in fiber which helps control the spikes in blood sugar. Pair your fresh fruit with nut butter or protein food like peanut butter, almond butter, or string cheese to help keep you satisfied. These are the best and worst fruits to eat if you have diabetes.