Small snacks (about 50 calories):
Medium snacks (about 100 calories):
Sound familiar? Fortunately, there are no rules about how many times a day a person should eat. Frequency of meals can be different for everyone, depending on lifestyle, preferred eating schedule and blood glucose levels. Here are some general guidelines.
Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose)
People with diabetes often take medication or insulin to help control blood glucose levels. However, the medicine does not know when to ‘turn off,’ creating a risk for low blood glucose. It is important to match the timing of your meals and your medicine to help prevent hypoglycemia. For instance, you might take glyburide with breakfast at 8 a.m. but not be able to eat lunch until 2 p.m. The medicine will work all morning, and waiting six hours until the next meal may result in a low blood glucose reaction. In this case, a small snack in the middle of the morning helps to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range until lunch.
Smaller loads of carbohydrate are easier on the pancreas
This may be true for people with Type 2 diabetes. Smaller, more frequent meals place a smaller demand on your pancreas for insulin. Over time, this may help prolong the time the pancreas is able to make insulin and delay the need for insulin by injection.
Control of your appetite
How do you feel by late afternoon if you ate lunch at noon and dinner is not until 8 p.m.? Hungry! By not eating for long periods of time, you can set yourself up to overeat at the next meal. A small snack in mid- or late afternoon helps to control the feeling of being ‘ready to eat the paint off the walls’ before dinner.
Getting more veggies into your diet
It is always a challenge to eat more vegetables. Snacking on crunchy vegetables is an easy way to satisfy the munchies in the afternoon while putting more fibre, antioxidants and vitamins into your body. Try cutting up peppers, cucumber or jicama and dipping them in tomato salsa or a dip made from plain yogurt and spices.Unplanned activity (if you take medicine for diabetes)
Exercising reduces blood glucose levels. If you cannot predict when you will exercise, you need to eat more to avoid hypoglycemia. A good guideline is to eat about 15 grams of carbohydrate (3/4 cup [187.5 mL] of juice, or 1/2 banana, or 3 graham wafers) for every half-hour of moderate exercise (fast walking, biking, slow jogging). By exercising regularly, you may be able to reduce the need for medication. Talk to your doctor about adjusting your medicine rather than having to eat more, especially if you are exercising to help with weight loss.Low blood glucose during the night
If you take medicine for diabetes and have had low blood glucose at night, have a snack before going to bed. The size of the snack will depend on your own needs and your blood glucose readings. Discuss this need with your diabetes educator or doctor.High blood glucose in the morning (fasting glucose level is higher than when you went to bed)
If you have Type 2 diabetes, an evening snack containing protein may help lower your fasting glucose level. Protein helps to reduce how much glucose the liver releases into your blood overnight. Some ideas are: 2 tbsp (30 mL) nuts, 2 crackers with a matchbox-size piece of low fat cheese, 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) of cottage cheese, or 1 cup (250 mL) of warm milk.
‘I was told to snack . . . three years ago.’
Update your eating schedule based on what your lifestyle reflects today. People’s meal plans, medicine and schedules change all the time. The snack you once needed may not be necessary anymore. It is common for people to snack because someone once told them to eat three meals and three snacks every day. If you plan to cut out some snacks, you must check the effects on your blood glucose levels. Your doctor or diabetes educator may be able to advise you on how you can reduce your diabetes medicine by eating less.
To ‘feed your medicine’
This phrase is sometimes used when your diabetes medicine is too strong. In this case, you may eat more than you would normally, just to prevent hypoglycemia. If you feel that you are eating too much because your medicine is too strong, you should talk to your doctor right away.
This is a tough one. With so many tasty treats out there, you are bound to grab a snack sometimes when you are not hungry. Muffins, scones, cookies, and even fruit can add up, providing extra calories and carbohydrate. A first step is to rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is starving and 10 is full). You should try not to eat if you rate your hunger at 6 or higher.
Whether you like three squares or nibble throughout the day, there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, think about what your lifestyle allows and start with what you think you need. (See the snack list for interesting snack ideas.) Small snacks are ‘fillers’ and have very little effect on glucose levels. The difference in effect between medium and larger snacks depends mainly on your activity levels. The more active you are, the larger the snack should be.
Some schools of thought suggest that by stimulating your metabolism (the rate at which your body uses food), eating more often may actually help with weight loss. The more likely explanation is that by eating more often you do not feel as hungry and are less likely to overeat at meals. If you decide to try eating more often, remember your meals must be smaller. It's your total food intake that results in weight gain or weight loss. More food–more weight, less food–less weight.
The best way to find out what works for you is to check the effect of snacks and meals on your blood glucose levels with your glucose meter. You can do this easily by checking before you eat and about two hours afterward. Strive to maintain your blood glucose levels within the target ranges as you have determined with the assistance of your diabetes educator.