Diabetes Daily

Can Snacking Help You Manage Diabetes? – Diabetes Daily

There are many reasons we snack, both good and bad. Some snacks are healthy and helpful, but sometimes we snack out of boredom, stress, or anxiety.

Can snacking actually help your diabetes management? Yes! Some foods and habits can help keep your blood glucose in your desired range. We met with registered dietician and strength and conditioning coach, Ben Tzeel, to discuss snacking!

Best Overall Snacks

Snacks that include protein tend to keep you satiated, and promote stable blood sugars over time. A snack with a large amount of fast-acting carbohydrates may spike your blood glucose quickly and lead to a low afterward, while a snack high in fat may contribute to elevated blood glucose hours later.

For folks following a ketogenic or ultra low-carb diet, a mini charcuterie snack with cheese, meat, and pickles might work well. And for those looking for something quick and easy, staying under 15 net grams of carbs (like the ones found in this list) works well to get you to your next meal. One of Ben’s favorite brands is the NRG bites from NRG Foods, with ~110 calories per bar and 4 to 6 grams of fat, 8 to 10 grams of protein, and 8 to 12 grams of net carbs (depending on flavor).

Snacks and Dawn Phenomenon

While there isn’t a magical snack that stops dawn phenomenon, there are some foods that don’t contribute to higher blood glucose levels overnight. Dawn phenomenon, or dawn effect, is when blood sugar rises in the early morning from about 2 am until 8 am. In order to wake up, hormones such as cortisol and glucagon are released. These trigger the liver to increase glucose production. Normally, the pancreas would then produce insulin to adjust. However, the impaired (or complete lack of) insulin response characteristic of diabetes causes blood sugar to rise. Small snacks with protein and fat work better after dinner than snacks containing carbohydrates. Leftover protein from dinner or a small serving of nuts, such as low-carb trail mix, works well!

Best Snacks Prior to Exercise

While this may seem counterintuitive if you’re counting calories for weight loss, our bodies need fuel to stay active for longer periods of time. In certain situations, having a snack before exercising can help keep blood sugar stable. Please note, we don’t recommend having a snack and giving an insulin bolus to cover for the snack. For pumps using automated insulin delivery (AID) you’ll need to pay attention to timing. Eat it too soon and an AID pump will see a rise in BG and begin to adjust, giving you more insulin. Definitely not what you want right before exercising!

Ben recommends having your snack 30 to 45 minutes before exercise, giving your stomach enough time to start digesting the food and to stabilize your blood glucose. Try avoiding anything too high in fat or dairy products to prevent gastrointestinal upset. Staying below 20 grams of carbohydrate, mixed with some protein and fat, will help slow the absorption and blood glucose rise, and avoiding a large spike before exercising.

If you’re taking long-acting insulin or a medication that lowers your blood glucose, you may find having a small snack beneficial in preventing a low (hypoglycemia) during exercise. If you’re using an insulin pump and adjusting your basal rates or using an exercise profile, you may not need or want a snack prior to a short-duration exercise. If you’re using an insulin pump, you may find it useful to reduce your basal rates 30-90 minutes prior to exercise, or to use the exercise/activity function rather than snacking for short duration activity. Exercising for longer than an hour? You may want to include food as a way to manage your blood glucose levels and/or fuel your body for exercise. For more information about longer-duration exercise and type 1 diabetes, read more from Dr. Mike Riddell and his colleagues in the Exercise Management in type 1 diabetes: a consensus statement.


No matter the way of eating you follow, you can adjust snacks to fit your lifestyle and help keep your blood sugar in your desired range!

Our thanks to Ben Tzeel from Your Diabetes Insider for joining our online session and for providing his expertise and insights. To learn more about or contact Ben, you can find him on his website or Instagram page.


Riddell, Michael & Gallen, Ian & Smart, Carmel & Taplin, Craig & Adolfsson, Peter & Lumb, Alistair, et al. (2017). Exercise management in type 1 diabetes: A consensus statement. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 5. 10.1016/S2213-8587(17)30014-1.

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